It is a fact that many people with ADHD suffer form insomnia, especially adults. But children from the age of puberty are also likely to suffer from this disturbance. About 75% of adults with ADHD seem to have an insomnia problem while between 25% and 50% of kids and teenagers seem to suffer from it as well. Nobody is quite sure what the link between ADHD and sleep disturbances is, but various things have been noted.
Possible causes of sleep challenges in ADHD patients.
1. Cortisol, the hormone released when we are under stress and keeps us alert, kicks in later in ADHD sufferers. As they approach bedtime, this hormone increases its activity. That means patients become alert and agitated and their minds start racing. It can give them more energy, boosts memory and even lessen the sensation of pain. But these are NOT the things we want as we go to bed!
2. The release of melatonin, a hormone vital to induce sleep, is released much later in ADHD patients. Again, the exact reason why this happens is not known, but with the cortisol kicking in and the melatonin arriving late, ADHD patients get a double whammy which keeps them tossing and turning.
3. Doctors are now recognising that sleep challenges may be just one of the symptoms of ADHD. But a word of caution here. Many kids are diagnosed with ADHD when all they have in reality is a sleep disturbance such as OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). This means that they are getting low quality oxygen to the brain. The result is inattention, restlessness and low quality learning the day after.
In fact, OSA is just one of the conditions (there are over 50 of them) which can mimic ADHD in many ways, and that is another reason why there are so many ADHD cases in the USA and the UK. It may well be just a case of misdiagnosis.
4. Researchers into sleep disorders in people with ADHD have found that their body clocks or circadian rhythms seem to be out of sync. A psychiatrist, Myron Brenner, has done research on this and has noted that the body clocks are faulty and defective and do not function normally. Another reason why they can never get off to sleep.
Types of sleep disturbances in ADHD patients.
When the ADHD sufferer eventually gets to sleep, the battle is far from over. They tend to be restless, can wake up very easily and their sleep is fitful – rarely getting a long restful sleep. About 80% of adults with ADHD also have difficulty in waking up, and sleeping through the alarm is very common. This usually adds to their irritability, and the effects are compounded by drowsiness during the day when they should be alert and attentive.
How ADHD meds can sometimes aggravate the problem
We know that sleep challenges are part of the ADHD scenario, and it is ironic to note that use of psychostimulants such as Ritalin and Concerta may actually increase insomnia in kids and adults! The cure is worse than the disease in this case. Up to 30% of children may have some sleep disturbances when they are on these amphetamine drugs. It is just one of the side effects, but a very troublesome one.
How to improve your quality of sleep
Make sure you have a regular bedtime and do not change it, even at the weekends
Ensure that you have a winding down time with no electronic media or computers on because the screens tend to disturb our body clocks as they mimic bright sunshine.
Experiment with white noise (ventilator ) or other sounds as this can sometimes help to get you off to sleep
Try taking melatonin tablets before bedtime
Experiment with herbal remedies . I use Valerian .
Try milk which contains tryptophan which can help induce sleep. If you are lactose intolerant, forget it!
Regulate your eating habits so that digestion is not just an added cause to your sleep problem
Make sure your bedroom is not too warm. Ideal temperature is around 18° C.
Make sure that you wind down with music or read boring novels as you approach bedtime.
The good news is that if we succeed in improving the quality of our sleep, we can also dramatically improve the quality of our lifestyle. We can even see positive results in ADHD symptoms!
Have you suffered from a sleep challenge and think is there an ADHD connection? Tell us about it in the comments section below.