Sleep Disorders and ADHD

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

Child with sleep disorders and ADHDADHD has long been a hot topic and subject to much debate regarding how it is assessed and managed. Patients are often given prescription drugs to control the symptoms. However, some physicians and studies claim that ADHD is a result of lack of sleep and bad diet, which can also be linked to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Sleep disorders and ADHD are an increasingly promising area of research.

Parents and teachers have reported ADHD in epidemic levels, with thousands of children demonstrating behavior to varying degrees. Symptoms include trouble focusing, impulsive or disruptive behavior, and hyperactivity. Some educators and scientists have claimed ADHD is a national crisis, and billions of dollars have been invested into research.

Many variables, such as diet, exposure to lead, and genetics, could be responsible for ADHD. However, research is now considering whether lack of sleep may be a key factor in ADHD-like behavioral attributes.

The correlation between sleep disorders and ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms is supported by a growing body of research, suggesting that not getting enough sleep can lead to behaviors associated with ADHD. The evidence suggests that a growing number of children are misdiagnosed with ADHD and instead suffer from insomnia, lack of sleep, sleep apnea, and other breathing-related sleep issues.

A study performed on 55 children identified as having ADHD with a mean age of 9 years concluded that sleep disruption and fragmentary sleep were prevalent in the children. Another study of 11000 children in 2012 concluded that sleep-related breathing problems such as apnea and snoring were 40-100 percent more likely to be assessed in children with ADHD by the time they were 7-years-old.

New techniques measuring and examining sleep patterns and sleep behavior are shedding light on and further illuminating the prevalence of ADHD-connected sleep disturbances. A recent comparative study concluded that sleep disturbances are common among children and “lead to substantial behavioral and cognitive consequences that mimic ADHD”. The growing support for these studies suggests that an overhaul of the current system for evaluating and managing supposed sufferers of ADHD is needed. Sleep disorders and ADHD share similar physiological and mental symptoms and should be taken into consideration when assessing issues.

AFS, Sleep Disorders and ADHD

Sleep disorders are commonly the result of another condition, known as adrenal fatigue, or AFS. AFS occurs when the adrenal glands function below your required bodily needs. The adrenal glands are two walnut-shaped glands that sit above the kidneys and secrete hormones, such as cortisol, that help the body deal with stress. When inadequate amounts of cortisol are excreted by the adrenal glands, AFS begins, and a variety of symptoms can develop.

It’s obvious that if you don’t get the required amount of sleep your body and mind will not function properly. These symptoms also correlate with those of ADHD and adrenal fatigue syndrome. Consider the table below:

Symptom AFS ADHD Sleep Disorders
unexplained weight gain
reduced sex drive
weakened immune system
brain fog
inability to focus
insulin spikes
depression anxiety
reduces body’s ability to produce hormones

AFS and sleep deprivation have very similar effects on both the body and mind, whereas ADHD seems primarily to affect the mind. However, AFS could lead to sleeping problems, or be worsened by them, which could, in turn, create symptoms similar to ADHD in children or adults. Long-term sleep deprivation, like the long-term stress that causes AFS, can have neurological effects on the body and create problems for many of the body’s systems.

Adrenal Fatigue is only one part of a larger issue, known as NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response Dysregulation. The NEM system is how your body handles stress. A lack of sleep is very common for those with neuroaffect circuit dysfunction. This can be due to a variety of reasons, but typically stems from an imbalance of neurotransmitters and hormones, leading to cortisol rushes, feeling wired, or hypoglycemia. ADHD can be a component of this due to the hyperactivity and stimulation of the brain.

Is ADHD a Result of Lack Sleep?

As mentioned before, studies concluded that children with ADHD are more likely to have disrupted sleep, causing them to exhibit these symptoms. However, it is unclear that lack of sleep could be a sole cause in some cases of sleep disorders and ADHD, or whether other factors are involved.

To investigate this possibility, it is important to consider more deeply what causes disrupted sleep or insomnia. The following are some probable causes of sleep disorders:
Black board showing sleep disorders and ADHD being related

  • Allergies and respiratory problems
  • Nocturia, or frequent urination at night
  • Chronic pain
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diet (consuming stimulants or sugar)
  • Lifestyle (work, socializing)
  • Psychiatric disorders or trauma
  • Circadian rhythm issues

When looking at AFS, ADHD, and sleep deprivation, it is important to consider all factors holistically. Assessing all attributes of lifestyle and physical and mental well-being helps locate the issues in question.

Sleep deprivation is easy to identify. You’re not getting enough sleep and feel tired. However, delving deeper into the issue as to why the sleep deprivation is happening is essential in resolving the disorder.

Consider keeping a diary of you or your child’s sleeping patterns and lifestyle habits. Start with the essentials, such as eating, exercise, and state of mind, and consider recording other factors that seem relevant to your sleep issues.

Diet – Your diet may well be affecting your sleeping patterns. One study of 13 women and 14 men over five nights with controlled dietary intake concluded that a low fiber intake coupled with high saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter and less restorative sleep. Not having a balanced diet can also lead to hormone production deficiency, thus leading to AFS.

Exercise – Exercise increases your body’s production of testosterone. Low levels of testosterone as result of lack of sleep can lead to depression, loss of memory, and concentration problems, both symptoms of both AFS and ADHD. Exercise also releases endorphins into the blood and can reduce tension or anxiety by inducing a state of euphoria. Anxiety is a symptom of ADHD and AFS.

Lifestyle – Time management is a key factor in getting on top of sleep patterns. Prioritize your life in order to get enough sleep, and if it can’t be avoided and you have to sacrifice some sleep, be sure to make time later in the week to make up for it. Excessive consumption of alcohol and other stimulants is also proven to affect your sleep patterns. A review of 27 studies indicates that while alcohol may induce sleep faster, it reduces the amount of REM sleep, which plays an important role in making sleep restorative. Disruptions from REM sleep cause brain fog and loss of concentration, symptoms of ADHD and AFS. Alcohol also restricts breathing and may result in sleep apnea.

Trauma and Stress – If trauma is a factor in your life, it could be affecting your health. Seek help. Try different methods to free yourself. See a psychologist or talk to someone you can trust. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are a great way of aiding psychological trauma and disorders such addiction and PTSD. Disruptions in hormonal response as a result of lack of sleep can affect the body’s ability to produce cortisol, the hormone that helps us deal with stress. This, in turn, can result in insomnia and, if it persists, can lead to AFS.


People doing yoga to resolve sleep disorders and ADHDDiet, exercise, and lifestyle are key factors that should not be overlooked when seeking a healthy mind and body. The above suggestions are natural alternatives to be taken into consideration before seeking the aid of prescription drugs.

It’s well documented that sleep disorders, ADHD, and adrenal fatigue share a set of interconnected symptoms and have an important thing in common: lack of sleep. All three conditions have an effect on your mental wellbeing and your ability to focus and concentrate. Multiple studies have shown that people suffering from sleep disorders, ADHD, and AFS have interrupted sleeping patterns or suffer from sleep deprivation. Although they have many similarities in symptoms, each person has a different lifestyle and should be assessed as an individual, taking into consideration diet, lifestyle, and stress levels. More research using a holistic approach would benefit people who are suffering from these disorders.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Sleep disorders and ADHD have many similar effects and symptoms on the body. Although much research concludes that the two disorders correlate, there is not enough conclusive evidence to say for sure how they relate.

Sleep disorders and ADHD