ADHD and Sleep Problems

Here is a great article from Dr. Kenny Handleman about sleep problems and ADD/ADHD.  It is often very hard for an ADDer to go to sleep at night.  They either hyper-focus on something they are doing, or the brain will not be quiet.

There have been numerous findings that show the brain is not quiet when we sleep – it is performing many vital and important functions to ready us for the next day. We cement in things we need to remember, & sweep out the things we don’t.  We solve problems in our sleep, & we heal ourselves from the daily traumas or from illness.  It has been said that chronic sleep deprivation can cause psychotic behavior or cause damage to the amygdala.  Others have stated that it can be an issue in the development of Alzheimer’s.

So contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a waste of time; instead, it helps us liver longer, happier lives.  Remember, the rumor is Einstein took naps every day and look at what he did!

Here is Dr. Kenny’s article:

Sleep problems can be serious, and if you’re an adult with ADD/ADHD, there’s more than a 40% chance that you deal with insomnia or sleep problems regularly.
During times of stress, that percentage can go up much higher.

If you’re the parent of a child or teen with ADD/ADHD, then it’s very likely that
your child has sleep problems too, and it can disrupt the entire family.

When it comes to ADD/ADHD and sleep, the relationship between the two can be really complex.

At the most simple level, I think of ADD and Insomnia from the perspective of two main causes:
1) Behavioral Insomnia and
2) Neurological Insomnia.

Behavioral Insomnia:

This relates to the fact that there are certain behavioral issues which may lead to sleep problems. For example, many people with ADD don’t like to follow a routine. So, they may not like to go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time (especially not on the weekend!), but our bodies do best by following routines.  Worse, if sleep is a challenge for you, then this behavior (of not following regular sleep routines) may make your sleep worse.
There are many possible ‘behavioral issues’ which could lead to sleep challenges, but hopefully this one example can help you to understand what I mean.

Neurological Insomnia:

When it comes to ‘neurological’ sleep problems, this refers to the fact that sometimes, people’s ‘ADD Brain’ doesn’t want to shut off, and it can be very hard to get to sleep.  When this is the case, the doctor may talk to them about medicine to help with it, and even when the sleep problems are mostly ‘neurological’ in nature, their doctor is still going to suggest behavioral strategies to help them sleep better.

Getting a good night sleep is so important for everyone – but it’s especially important if you (or your child) have ADD/ADHD. When you’re well rested, you can probably handle more stress without getting overwhelmed. You can problem solve better, and your emotions are more in check.

When we talk about kids and teens with ADD/ADHD, a good night sleep is even more important so that they can learn, grow, mature, and do all they need to do at school and at home.

So, if you’re having sleep problems, talk to your doctor (or healthcare professional) about whether your sleep issues seem to be ‘behavioral’ or ‘neurological’, and see if you can work on strategies to improve your sleep.

Have a great weekend.


Dr. Kenny