Losing Sleep Over ADD?

How does ADD impact sleep?

image via Flickr, Vic

image via Flickr, Vic

In our practice, about 70% of people with ADD come to us with sleep problems—trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning. This makes all the sense in the world—as a key feature of ADD is low arousal, it falls to reason that an event that involves arousal in the day will play a role in the sleep-wake cycle at night.

Some of my patients who have trouble falling asleep at night experience wakefulness, in part, because they are unable to turn off their minds; as they lay in bed, distractibility keeps their minds active, moving from one thought, worry, or plan to another never quieting sufficiently to shift into the sleep mode. Others seem to struggle with getting to sleep as a consequence of a second wind: they come home wiped out; they zone in front of the television until 10:00 PM; get a surge of energy, act on it and find it tough to come down to sleep when they try.

It is not uncommon for my patients with ADD to experience nighttime wake ups. For some of these individual’s this is actually related to sleep apnea—periods of cessation of breathing during sleep. Research suggests that sleep apnea occurs in the ADD population more frequently than in the general population; it is likely that this is a function of a higher incidence of obesity in people with ADD and obesity is a key contributor to sleep apnea. Many of my patients do not suffer from sleep apnea but still more often wake up during the night. My understanding of this is a function of a less than good sleep-wake cycle in ADD population.

Probably, one of the hallmarks of ADD is trouble waking up in the morning. While this is particularly difficult for those who get their second wind at night and don’t fall off to sleep until very late, it is also experience by ADD individuals who have had the benefit of eight hours of sleep. Again, it is likely that this is a result of the disorder arousal system in the ADD population.

Apart from its being a drag, sleep difficulties are a serious problem for the ADD individual; we know that sleep deprivation on top of an arousal problem only intensifies his impulsivity, distractibility, poor monitoring, and weak vigilance.


Don’t fight those sleepless nights alone!  A thoughtful doctor or therapist can help you tackle the challenges of ADD and restful sleep.  For help finding the right care provider, Dr. Liden offers a step-by-step guide to finding a diagnosis and treatment plan you can trust to succeed: ADD/ADHD Basics 101

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

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