ADHD and Insomnia: What to Do When You Just Can't Sleep

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ADHD and insomnia share many things in common. For starters, for many Americans they are both growing epidemics. In the last few decades, ADHD diagnoses have increased dramatically. Furthermore, the prevalence of adult ADHD has only grown as well, with many adults realizing for the first time they have ADHD symptoms.

Similarly, our hectic lives have led to an increase in the instances of insomnia. In particular, many adults struggle with sleeplessness on a fairly regular basis. An estimated 30 percent of the general population has issues with insomnia. This number can feel staggering, as it means that all of us more than likely knows someone who has issues with insomnia on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, if you have ADHD, you also may have a higher likelihood of having an issue with sleep in general. While the intricacies of this connection aren’t fully understood, we nevertheless can talk through some of why ADHD and insomnia might be connected and how you can deal with them both. In this post, we talk through ADHD and insomnia, from causes to treatment. In the end, with a better understanding of both conditions, you can hopefully be able to more effectively address them in your own life.

What is Insomnia?

To understand the connection between ADHD and insomnia, you need to first understand what insomnia is. In short, insomnia simply involves a condition of having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Additionally, commonly people suffering from insomnia feel fatigued and have low energy during the day. Furthermore, they might have trouble concentrating. As a result then, they also usually have decreased productivity at work or school.

Many people might have had short episodes of insomnia that might have just lasted a night or two. Brief and inconsistent episodes of sleeplessness are usually referred to as acute insomnia. Typically, this type of insomnia results from life circumstances or events. For instance, traveling or disrupting your regular routine can cause a night or two of sleeplessness. While this type of insomnia can present frustrations, it usually won’t disrupt your life for more than a day. Additionally, it usually passes without treatment.

A more serious condition is chronic insomnia. You can identify chronic insomnia by its frequency and how long it lasts. With chronic insomnia, you have trouble sleeping at least 3 nights a week and this lasts for three months at a minimum. This type of insomnia can cause lasting issues and life disruptions. Additionally, chronic insomnia might need specific treatment to resolve.

What are Other Causes of Insomnia?

Now with a clearer picture of insomnia in general, let’s talk more about the causes of insomnia. Due to its prevalence and how many people can suffer from insomnia, the causes of insomnia can vary greatly. As we’ve already mentioned, short-term insomnia can result from small changes in your schedule such as traveling. The causes don’t stop there, though.

Other causes of insomnia can include such things as chronic pain or allergies. Additionally, other sleep conditions such as sleep apnea can possibly lead to insomnia. Furthermore, another connection between ADHD and insomnia can include depression. A person’s mental state and feelings can lead to sleeplessness and insomnia. Anxiety, also prevalent with ADHD, can also cause insomnia.

Since the causes of insomnia really can be so varied, in order to address it well, you need to consider several avenues of where the underlying issues might be coming from. In some cases, the most obvious causes might not in fact be the most significant. If you struggle with insomnia, you should take a full life inventory. Consider everything from your routine to what you eat to your mental state. Factors from many realms of life might be contributing elements to your sleeplessness.

What are Some Treatments for Insomnia?

Next, you might want to talk through treatments for insomnia. Another reason ADHD and insomnia are so connected is that many of the basic treatment approaches involve looking at your daily life routine. When thinking through insomnia, as with addressing ADHD symptoms, you need to consider, is my life routine healthy for me? Is my diet and behavior hurting or helping?

With ADHD, your daily routine has a profound impact on your symptom management. What you eat and when and how much you exercise among other things affects how well you can keep your symptoms under control. When it comes to insomnia, you want to think through the same things.

If you have regular problems with insomnia, consider first what you eat and drink especially later in the evening. Try to keep alcohol and caffeinated beverages to an absolute minimum. Avoid sugary and fatty foods, as well.

In addition to your diet, you need to look at your activity levels. Make sure you exercise at least 30 minutes each day. Exercise helps to consume energy and gets your body to rest. Beyond diet and exercise, consider your sleep routine. Make sure you have a regular time you go to bed each night. Furthermore, protect your sleep by keeping the room dark and keeping electronics out. Start winding down by turning off electronics 30 minutes before bed.

Finally, in some cases, even with changing many aspects of your routine, some people will still have issues with chronic insomnia. In these cases, you can consider taking sleep medication. Usually, though, this should be your last resort, and often they only are effective for a short period. Still they can provide some help, just be sure that you only use them in consultation with your doctor.

How are ADHD and Insomnia Connected?

Now to the main aspect we all want to discuss: exactly how are ADHD and insomnia connected? For starters, they both predominantly focus on how your brain functions. Many people with ADHD have trouble settling their mind. Thoughts constantly race from one thing to another without a break. This difficulty with “turning off” makes it difficult to go to sleep at night, which can lead to insomnia.

Additionally, another possible connection may lie with the stimulants many people use to manage their ADHD. Stimulants can include anything from coffee to caffeine pills to prescription medication. While these things can help to mitigate some of the effects of ADHD, they also can lead to sleep problems. We all know on some level that caffeine limits our ability to sleep. Stimulants like caffeine can help ADHD, but their continual use can also possibly lead to insomnia and similar sleep issues.

Finally, as we’ve already mentioned, general health and life practices can impact both ADHD and insomnia. If you have a poor diet, you more than likely might have issues with both your ADHD and insomnia. The better we take care of ourselves in general, the better we can help to address both conditions. This means considering everything from diet to exercise to even how much and when we use electronic screens.

Addressing ADHD and Insomnia Together Holistically

Many people with ADHD are used to treating other ailments at the same time. This is because ADHD has a high rate of comorbidity, having other conditions appear alongside it. Some common co-existing conditions can include eating disorders, learning disabilities, and depression. Now, you can add insomnia to the list.

For people with ADHD, it just doesn’t work to take one measure or pill to correct all the potential issues. Like we’ve just mentioned, effective management really requires a comprehensive treatment plan. When it comes to addressing both ADHD and insomnia, you need to think along the same lines. You need to think how you can resolve the issues holistically.

Usually if you can manage to keep your ADHD symptoms in check, you might also find that sleep will come easier. With this in mind, don’t simply try to address insomnia in isolation. Instead, you should target keeping your ADHD in order and getting restful sleep at the same time. With taking a more holistic approach, you can more likely find a working resolution for both.