It is not uncommon for a person with ADHD to also struggle with insomnia. This may be due to an inability to turn off their thoughts at the end of the day, disrupted sleep schedules, or even hyperfixation. However, while these conditions often co-occur, there are many treatment options available to help address their impacts.
What Is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that is often diagnosed in childhood. ADHD symptoms typically include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disorganization. These behaviors can impact a person’s life in many ways including their work performance, relationships, and overall functioning. A person with ADHD may also have difficulty maintaining routines.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that results from difficulties falling or staying asleep. A person might wake up or be restless throughout the night. Sleep greatly impacts one’s mental health as poor sleep quality can lead to irritability, fatigue, distractibility, and further implications.
Common symptoms of poor sleep due to insomnia include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Decreased productivity
- Difficulties with memory
- Increased accidents due to distractibility
Are ADHD & Insomnia Connected?
A person with ADHD often struggles with “turning off” at night, and therefore may experience a number of issues related to sleep quality. Decompressing before bedtime is essential, but often challenging for these individuals. Because of this, experiencing bouts of or frequent insomnia is not uncommon.
A person with ADHD might experience insomnia because of:
ADHD hyperfixation occurs when a person becomes so focused on one task or item that their other responsibilities may fall to the wayside. This can occur for hours at time, which can greatly impact their schedule and result in them staying up well into the night. Therefore, when they finally go to bed, they may remain hyper-focused on this project, making it difficult to fall asleep. This often results in insomnia.
Circadian Rhythm Disruptions
When a person’s natural circadian rhythm is disrupted, they may experience difficulties falling or staying asleep. Those with ADHD often struggle with issues related to this natural process. Many tend to be “night owls,” which can impact their ability to sleep as many jobs, responsibilities, and other activities take place during the day. Therefore, it may be tough to actually find the time to sleep, sometimes resulting in insomnia.
Time blindness is common for those with ADHD, as they often lose track of time for a number of reasons, particularly hyperfixation. As mentioned, hyperfixation already greatly impacts a person’s ability to stay on routine–time blindness exacerbates this by making it hard to differentiate the passing of time. For example, a person may not realize that they have worked well past bedtime and into the early morning hours.
When a person experiences cognitive hyperarousal, they are often focused on multiple tasks or thoughts all at once. A person with ADHD may have difficulty shutting these thoughts off, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Medication Side Effects
Certain ADHD medications can lead to increased activity and focus, sometimes impacting a person’s ability to fall asleep. Depending on the time of day one takes their medication, these side effects may last long into the evening, resulting in insomnia.
Other Causes of Insomnia
There are a number of other reasons a person may experience insomnia. Difficulties sleeping are not an indicator of ADHD. However, it’s important to identify what could be causing any issues in order to improve sleep quality.
Other possible causes of insomnia include:
- Stress: Stress and toxic stress often lead to insomnia because one’s mind and body may remain stagnant in a fight-or-flight mode. This makes falling asleep difficult.
- Disruption to routine: When a person gets used to a certain bedtime routine, disruptions can make it more difficult to fall or stay asleep.
- Anxiety: An anxiety disorder may result in insomnia due to continuous feelings of overwhelm, fear, or worry.
- Poor nutrition habits: Poor nutrition can result in increased levels of cortisol, resulting in anxiety and insomnia.
- Caffeine: Caffeine affects a person’s energy levels which in turn can lead to insomnia.
- Medications: Certain medications are known to cause insomnia depending on how they interact with the brain. It’s important to always check medication labels.
Treatment Options for ADHD & Insomnia
There are many treatment options available for individuals with ADHD and insomnia. A typical approach may include therapy and medications. When considering therapy, it is important to find a neurodiverse affirming therapist who understands how ADHD can be affected by insomnia and vice versa.1
Treatment options for insomnia and ADHD include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT for ADHD is beneficial for both ADHD and insomnia as it encourages a person to change their thought patterns in order to achieve a sense of calm.
- Medications: Some medications for ADHD can address insomnia by decreasing feelings of anxiety or irritability.
- Light therapy: Light therapy uses special lighting and colors and may be used to improve sleep quality in those with ADHD.
How to Cope With ADHD & Insomnia
While addressing ADHD and insomnia can be challenging, there are healthy ways to cope. Adopting healthy habits outside of treatment will help a person feel better able to tackle their symptoms at home.2
Here are seven tips for coping with ADHD and insomnia:
1. Track Your Sleep Cycle
There are many ways to track your sleep patterns. Doing so will provide information on your overall sleep quality as well as what may be impacting your ability to fall or stay asleep. For those with ADHD, this can also provide a dopamine hit as it can offer a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment.
2. Fix Your Routine
Change it up! Maintaining a healthy and stable sleep cycle is crucial. Does your sleep schedule conflict with your obligations? Do you scroll through your phone for hours before bed? Check your morning and night time routines to see how you can make changes to promote healthy sleep habits. Fix these aspects when possible and continue to track your progress.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness encourages a person to focus on the present moment instead of other thoughts or responsibilities. Practicing mindfulness throughout the day can help a person reduce mental overwhelm. Instead of hyperfixating on the next item on their to-do list, a person can instead remain grounded in themselves in the moment. This can be especially helpful to do before bed.
4. Exercise Regularly
There are many mental health benefits of exercise as it releases endorphins in a person’s body. Exercise also requires energy, which can tire a person out. This can help a person wind down before bed or throughout the day so they are better able to turn off at night.3
5. Engage in Meditation
Set a time and place to meditate daily. This practice will help increase feelings of calm and reduce mental clutter. This can improve a person’s ability to fall asleep naturally, thus reducing insomnia.
6. Change Eating Habits
Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is beneficial. Having too much sugar or caffeine can greatly impact sleep quality and focus. Therefore, maintaining a well balanced diet can help you sleep better at night.
7. Find An Accountability Partner
Setting new rules, boundaries, and habits can be a challenge! It’s important to have someone in your corner supporting you when you are making healthy changes. Ask someone you trust to be there for you when you need to discuss issues or share your progress. This can help provide you the motivation to stick to your efforts.
ADHD and insomnia are difficult to deal with, but there are effective treatments available. By speaking with a healthcare professional, you can feel better supported as you navigate these challenges. When it comes to treatment, one size does not fit all, so it’s important to find what works best for you.