The ADHD-Sleep Connection: How Sleep Impacts ADHD Symptoms
Updated: May 5
Sleep plays an integral role in how well we function overall, especially for ADHD.
Poor sleep can increase impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity and other symptoms of ADHD.
Improving sleep can have a positive impact on ADHD symptoms and whole health.
Certain supplements can help with sleep. I recommend working with an integrative psychiatric provider who can offer holistic solutions.
Getting enough quality sleep is one of the most important things that people with ADHD can do to manage their symptoms. And as integrative psychiatric nurse practitioner, I have seen firsthand from lots of patients how sleep can impact ADHD symptoms.
In this blog post, I'll explain why sleep is so important, how it can affect ADHD, and what steps you can take to improve your sleep and manage your ADHD more effectively. Remember the most effective treatment for ADHD include a comprehensive approach and may include medications for ADHD.
The Importance of Sleep for ADHD Management
Sleep is crucial for everyone, but it's especially important for people with ADHD. That's because ADHD is often characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, all of which can be exacerbated by lack of sleep. When we sleep, our brains consolidate memories, process emotions, and clear out metabolic waste products. This helps to improve cognitive function, mood, and enables process stimuli effectively. Remember dopamine, that heavy hitter neurotransmitter related to ADHD? Well without adequate sleep our dopamine becomes really out of whack leading to spikes and crashes that severely impact our ability to maintain consistent focus, mood, among other things.
This is why any quality ADHD treatment plan will include discussions surrounding sleep.
How Sleep Affects ADHD Symptoms
Sleep is an essential component of overall health and it plays a critical role in managing symptoms of ADHD. People with ADHD often struggle with sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested upon waking. These sleep disturbances can exacerbate ADHD symptoms and make it more challenging to manage them effectively.
Inattention and Hyperactivity
Adequate sleep is critical for maintaining focus, attention, and concentration throughout the day. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased inattention and hyperactivity, which are hallmark symptoms of ADHD. When we don't get enough sleep, our brains are less able to filter out distractions and maintain focus, making it harder to complete tasks and stay on track.
Sleep also plays a role in regulating impulsivity, which is a common symptom of ADHD. Impulsivity is the tendency to act without thinking or considering the consequences, which can lead to poor decision-making, risk-taking behavior, and difficulties in social situations. Lack of sleep can increase impulsivity, making it harder to control impulses and make thoughtful decisions.
People with ADHD often struggle with emotional regulation, including mood swings, irritability, and emotional reactivity. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate these emotional symptoms, leading to increased mood swings and irritability. Lack of sleep can also lead to cognitive distortions and negative thinking patterns, which can further contribute to emotional dysregulation.
Sleep is critical for maintaining executive functioning, which includes skills such as planning, organization, and problem-solving. People with ADHD often struggle with executive functioning, and sleep deprivation can make these difficulties worse. Lack of sleep can impair our ability to think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems, which can impact our ability to complete tasks and meet goals.
How Sleep Impacts It
Adequate sleep can improve focus and attention span
Sleep deprivation can worsen hyperactivity and restlessness
Lack of sleep can lead to increased impulsivity and poor decision-making
Insufficient sleep can exacerbate mood swings and emotional reactivity
Tips for Improving Sleep with ADHD
If you have ADHD, getting a good night's sleep can be a challenge, but it's essential for managing symptoms and improving overall health and well-being. Here are some tips for improving sleep with ADHD:
1. Create a calming bedtime routine:
Establishing a calming bedtime routine can help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This might include activities such as taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing, or reading a book. Warm bath? Yeah, actually this helps trigger a shift in body temperature that helps us go to sleep. Oh, and nutrition too. Eating certain foods before bed can negatively impact body temperature and sleep cycles. (Note: Nutrition is an important component of ADHD management, more on that in a previous post!)
Bonus: Caffeine! Caffeine has about a 5 hour half life. Caffeine intake for most people, shouldn't be ingested less than 8 hours before bed. Timing of when you have your first cup is important, too. Ideally, waiting 2 hours after waking allows your body's nature waking process to run it's course. If you're tired on waking and need coffee, it signals a problem and you likely need to have a more in-depth analysis of your sleep.
2. Set a consistent sleep schedule:
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help regulate your body's internal clock and improve sleep quality. Be sure to stick to your sleep schedule even on weekends and holidays. A perfect sleep routine is different for everyone. As a rule of thumb, adults need at least 8 hours.
Let me repeat, adults need at least 8 hours of sleep!
3. Limit screen time before bed:
The light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep. Try to avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before bed. TVs are screens too! The flashing lights, sounds, and overall stimulation can really upset our internal sleep signals.
4. Create a sleep-conducive environment:
Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Consider investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try using blackout curtains or a white noise machine if necessary. In a perfect world our sleep environment would be free of any artificial light and disruptive sounds.
5. Exercise regularly:
Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality and regulate sleep patterns. However, be sure to avoid vigorous exercise within a few hours of bedtime, as it can have a stimulating effect. Not to mention, ADHD can be effectively managed with exercise in some cases.
6. Consider supplements:
In some cases, supplements can be really helpful. I’m always hesitant to make supplement recommendations, for lots of reason. But here I’m going to make a few recommendations.
100mg of apigenin has been shown to induce relaxation and promote sleep. Fun fact! Apigenin is the ingredient in chamomile.
200-400mg of magnesium L-theronate crosses the blood-brain barrier. Moreover, magnesium is thought to help increase available GABA and melatonin, both key chemicals for our sleep.
Ok, let me be clear: these are not going to knock you out. Do not expect these to compare to things like Ambien – which is quite risky to take long term. Also, it’s always a good idea to chat with your provider to make sure taking any supplement won’t interfere with current medications or negatively impact your health. More on sleep and supplements for sleep in a future post!
Conclusion: ADHD and Sleep
In conclusion, sleep is a critical component of ADHD management. Improving sleep quality is often part of a large holistic ADHD treatment plan - empowering people with ADHD to effectively manage and reduce their symptoms. If you're struggling with sleep, talk to your healthcare provider about strategies that can help, such as developing a sleep routine or trying natural remedies. By taking proactive steps to improve your sleep, you can take control of your ADHD, create balance, and optimize your performance.
If you have any additional questions about ADHD or integrative psychiatry in general, shoot me an email or reach out through my website. If you're looking for a provider and you're in the Washington, DC area, I'd love to help you on your treatment journey!