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Could ADHD potentially affect the length and quality of someone's sleep?

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

ADHD symptoms affect each person differently and to varying degrees, and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatment, support or dietary advice. An often overlooked problem is the relationship between ADHD and sleep. When it comes to sleep, many of my clients living with ADHD report difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up feeling refreshed. The knock-on

effect of mental and physical restlessness can result in exhaustion and low energy. Sleep is a vital process that allows the body and brain to rest and repair. It is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being. Let's explore the links between ADHD and disturbed sleep and discuss the impact of sleep problems on individuals with ADHD.

So, is there actually a connection between sleep problems and ADHD?

Some researchers have found that people living with ADHD are more likely to experience sleep problems compared to those without ADHD. One study showed that up to 70% of children and adults with ADHD have sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. These sleep problems can affect the quality and quantity of sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and impaired functioning.

What's the impact of this on people with ADHD?

Sleep problems can have a significant impact on the symptoms of ADHD. For example, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep can exacerbate symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity during the day. Sleep-deprived individuals with ADHD may also experience more emotional and behavioural issues compared to those who sleep well. Moreover, sleep problems can also interfere with the effectiveness of ADHD medication. Research shows that stimulant medication can cause sleep disturbances, particularly if taken later in the day. For some people, these sleep disturbances can worsen symptoms of ADHD, leading to a vicious cycle of sleep problems and increased ADHD symptoms.

What might be causing these issues?

The underlying mechanisms of the link between ADHD and sleep problems are not yet fully understood. However, several hypotheses have been proposed by researchers and scientists. One theory that has been suggested relates to an imbalance in the brain chemicals responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Another theory proposes that ADHD symptoms themselves can disrupt sleep, such as hyperactivity or impulsivity at bedtime. Have any treatment strategies been found to help?

  1. Behavioural therapy: Behavioral therapies, such as sleep hygiene education, relaxation techniques, and cognitive-behavioural therapy, can improve sleep quality and reduce sleep problems in individuals with both with and without ADHD.

  2. Medication: Medications, such as melatonin or sedatives, may be prescribed to help people with ADHD fall asleep and stay asleep.

  3. Adjusting ADHD medication: Adjusting the timing or dosage of ADHD medication can help reduce sleep disturbances caused by the medication.

  4. Lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding caffeine or electronic devices before bedtime, can also improve sleep quality for people with ADHD who struggle to sleep well.

Can nutrition play a role in improving sleep quality? The answer is yes! Nutrients play a significant role in sleep regulation, affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. Let's explore the evidence-based role of nutrients in sleep and discuss dietary strategies for promoting healthy sleep.

Magnesium Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, including the regulation of sleep. It is involved in the production of neurotransmitters that promote sleep, including melatonin and GABA. Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can improve sleep quality, reduce time to fall asleep and increase sleep duration. Foods rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist before supplementing with Magnesium.

Melatonin Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body in response to darkness. It plays a critical role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Foods that are high in melatonin include tart cherries, kiwis, and nuts.


Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in regulating mood and sleep. Serotonin is converted into melatonin in the brain, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Foods that are high in tryptophan include turkey, chicken, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds.

Vitamin B6 Vitamin B6 is essential for the production of neurotransmitters that regulate sleep, including serotonin and melatonin. Studies have shown that vitamin B6 supplementation can improve sleep quality and increase REM sleep. Foods that are high in vitamin B6 include bananas, chickpeas, salmon, tuna, chicken, and potatoes.

Iron Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. Low iron levels can lead to restless leg syndrome, a condition associated with poor sleep quality. Foods that are high in iron include red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and fortified cereals.

Always consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist before supplementing with iron.

So, should I just start taking supplements to help support better sleep? Due to the potential for side effects and interactions with medications and other supplements, you may be taking, it is always safest to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regime. In the clinic, I run a full drug/nutrient interaction check for my clients, using an extensive database, before making any recommendations. In addition to including specific nutrients in your diet, there are dietary strategies that can promote healthy sleep:

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep quality.

  2. Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.

  3. Limit your intake of processed foods and sugar, which can disrupt sleep.

  4. Avoid large meals before bedtime, as they can interfere with digestion and disrupt sleep.

So, what's the bottom line? Nutrients play a significant role in sleep regulation, affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. Magnesium, melatonin, tryptophan, vitamin B6, and iron are all essential nutrients for promoting healthy sleep. Including a variety of nutrient-rich foods in your diet and following dietary strategies that promote healthy sleep can help you get the restful sleep your body needs for optimal health and well-being. It's important to remember when making any dietary changes that we are all individuals with different metabolisms, biochemical markers, genetics and microbiomes. Please consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist if you are experiencing significant problems with sleep.

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Interesting read! The suggestion of my diagnoses came about after I'd been suffering with sleep issues throughout my life and wanted my sleeping to be assessed, turns out my doctor was right and it was indeed a symptom of my ADHD!

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