What’s the Deal With ADHD and Sleep?

I’ll start with the short answer. The deal is: ADHD can really mess with your sleep.

Of course, the question then becomes: mess with your sleep how?

Lots of researchers have asked this from different angles, trying to gain insight into how and why sleep goes wrong in people with ADHD. We know from anecdotal experience that people with ADHD often have a hard time sleeping, but the idea is that a more scientific understanding of what’s going on in the ADHD brain when it’s trying to sleep might lead to better treatments for ADHD, for insomnia, and, yes, for ADHD insomnia.

Recently, a group of researchers from University of Massachusetts Amherst decided to approach this topic with a basic question: overall, do people with ADHD sleep more or less than average?

To answer this question, the researchers ran a study with more than thirty thousand participants, over a thousand of whom had ADHD. When they looked at the data, they found that, in fact, people with ADHD sleep both more and less than people without the disorder.

Specifically, adults who sleep less than 6 hours a night and more than 9 hours a night are both more likely to have ADHD. This result suggests that there are multiple ways ADHD can cause sleep to go awry.

Although there has been less research on sleep in adult ADHD than in childhood ADHD, the studies that have been done suggest some other ways ADHD can screw with sleep.

For example, one study showed that adults with ADHD are more likely to be night owls than adults without the condition. Moreover, people with ADHD whose hours lean later tend to have more severe ADHD symptoms.

Subtype might also enter into the ADHD and sleep equation. Research done at University of Toronto suggests that inattentive ADHDers have poorer sleep quality than combined ADHDers on average. Those with inattentive ADHD also report more fatigue.

More work is going to have to be done to pin down exactly the different ways ADHD can sabotage a good night’s sleep, but what we know so far seems to indicate that ADHD can interfere with sleep on several fronts. It can make you sleep too little or too much. It can make you an extreme evening person. It can harm your sleep quality and make you fatigued. And so on — you get the idea.

In the meantime, a good way to cope with ADHD-related sleep difficulties is to experiment and find a routine that works for you. For instance, I’ve discovered that nothing helps me get to sleep as much as reading in bed on my Kindle until I’m tired enough to fall pretty much immediately asleep. If you have ADHD, you might never achieve perfection in your sleep habits, but trying enough different things will help you find ones that work better than others

D’you have trouble with your sleep? Please share your tips for sleeping with ADHD in the comments below!

Image: FreeImages.com/Jocilyn Pope

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