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Link Between Sleep Problems and ADHD

Posted by Tyler Britton on Apr 15, 2021 11:45:00 AM

Overlap Between ADHD Symptoms and Sleep Deprivation Symptoms

The Link beteween sleep problems and ADHD anchorage sleep blog

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms and symptoms of sleep deprivation have quite a bit of overlap. An interesting question to consider is: can sleep problems result in ADHD? The reason this question is interesting is because if the answer is yes, there may be treatments available for some people with ADHD that are non-pharmacological.

Right now, there is no answer to this question. It is something that researchers, such as professor Sandra Kooij (Associate Professor of Psychiatry at VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, and founder and chair of the European Network Adult ADHD), are only just beginning to tackle.

Consider for a moment thought, some of the most common symptoms of sleep deprivation [Brandon Peters, MD] that are also symptomatic of ADHD [WebMD]:

  • Difficulty remaining attentive
  • Lack of focus
  • Impulsiveness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired performance on common activities
  • Poor prioritization/planning
  • Disrupted sleep cycle

The fact is that in addition to scientific overlap (discussed later in article) that there is a lot of overlap in symptoms of both ADHD and sleep deprivation. As said, right now it raises interesting questions with few definite answers. However, if you or your child struggle with ADHD you might also check in and see how your sleep is too.

ADHD and Sleep Trouble Not Just a Question for Children

The discussion about the links between sleep, sleep trouble, and ADHD does not just pertain children. The fact is that while ADHD diagnoses are more common in children than adults, adults have ADHD too.

Why is this important? Because this article might not just be relevant to you children if they have ADHD, but it could be relevant to you, the parent, if you have ADHD: the link between ADHD and sleep trouble does not depend on your age.

Recommended Amount of Sleep for Children and Adults

The recommended amount of sleep for children varies with age, while adults have a static sleep recommendation time period. Here are some ranges that you will commonly see for nighttime sleep recommendations [NHS]:

1-5 years: 11-12 hours of sleep per night

6-9 years: 10-11 hours of sleep per night

10-17 years: 9-10 hours of sleep per night

17+ (adult): 7-9 hours of sleep per night

For a more detailed list, see: what is the right amount of sleep? Obviously, we are all individuals and have different sleep need. You or your children may sleep more than the values listed above.

The takeaway of this list is to see whether or not you and/or your children are chronically receiving less than the above listed values. If that’s the case,

Relationship Between ADHD and Sleep Disorders

This is a strong link between sleep troubles and ADHD - which is the culprit

There is a strong link between ADHD and sleep trouble. The question is: why?

According to the European College of Neurosychopharmacoloy, 75% of children and adults with ADHD have sleep problems. Professor Sandra Kooij postulates that sleep problems in people with ADHD are not separate or coincidental:

"There is extensive research showing that people with ADHD also tend to exhibit sleep problems. What we are doing here is taking this association to the next logical step: pulling all the work together leads us to say that, based on existing evidence, it looks very much like ADHD and circadian problems are intertwined in the majority of patients.

We believe this because the day and night rhythm is disturbed, the timing of several physical processes is disturbed, not only of sleep, but also of temperature, movement patterns, timing of meals, and so on.

If you review the evidence, it looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are 2 sides of the same physiological and mental coin."

Evidence that supports Kooij’s hypothesis that ADHD and sleep problems are two sides of one coin are:

  • In 75% of ADHD patients the physiological sleep phase is delayed 1.5 hours over non-ADHD patients
  • Core body temperature changes are delayed in patients with ADHD (core body temperature dropping primes the body for sleep)
  • Patients with ADHD generally show greater alertness in the evening
  • Large overlap of symptoms/disturbances of ADHD and sleep disorders: restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, circadian rhythm disturbance, and delayed sleep phase.

If you have ADHD and trouble sleeping, it is highly recommended that you consult your healthcare practitioner or consult with a sleep specialist. At the very least, sleep disorders may exacerbate ADHD symptoms, and managing a sleep disorder may greatly improve ADHD symptoms.

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