ADHD & Sleep: This Can Help Those On ADHD Drugs Sleep Better

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are known to struggle with sleep. Sadly, their sleep problems may get worse among those on ADHD medications.

Three facts on ADHD and Sleep issues:

  1. Globally, ADHD is found in about 5.29 to 7.2% of children — causing difficulty paying attention, being overly active, or acting impulsively.
  2. About 60% of children with ADHD carry their symptoms into adulthood, affecting their work and personal lives.
  3. Studies have found a strong link between ADHD and sleep problems like insomnia. In fact, up to 85% of adults with ADHD have sleep disturbances (Fadeuilhe & Daigre, 2021).

So, adults with ADHD often face a dual challenge, dealing with sleep disturbs from both their condition and the stimulant medications used for treatment.

What one thing can help them?

Power of Exercise in Enhancing Sleep In ADHD

A recent study by Chinese and American researchers signals that physical activity can majorly improve sleep in adults with ADHD, particularly those on stimulant medications.

According to the study authors, Zhu, Liu, & Kuang (2023):

  1. Physical Activity (PA) Reduced Sleep Disturbances: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity significantly improved sleep in adults with ADHD on stimulant medications. Specifically, physical activity was seen to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, increase total sleep time, and improve overall sleep quality.
  2. 150 Minutes Weekly Guideline: Those in the study who did 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week experienced a substantial reduction in sleep problems.
  3. Gender-Specific Benefits: The positive impact of physical activity on sleep appeared to be more pronounced in men than in women, suggesting physiological and possibly hormonal differences between genders.
  4. Dose-Response Relationship: There is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and sleep quality; as the minutes of physical activity per week increase, the incidence of sleep troubles decreases.
  5. Importance of Regular Exercise: This highlights the importance of incorporating regular moderate-to-vigorous physical
ADHD Sleep Issues Exercise

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Tailoring Exercise to Individual Needs

Physical activity, especially moderate to vigorous exercise, was found to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, increase total sleep time, and improve overall sleep quality.

When choosing exercise for better sleep in people with ADHD, consider these points:

  1. Personalize Your Exercise Plan: As per the study, choose an exercise plan that suits your personal preferences and abilities. Consider the intensity and duration of exercises and adjust them based on your personal fitness levels and other health concerns.
  2. Pick the Right Exercise: Aerobic exercises like running, cycling, or swimming are highly effective. Select the type of exercise based on your specific ADHD symptoms present. If you are one of those with more hyperactivity, you may benefit from vigorous activities. If you have more of the inattentive symptoms (that is, you get distracted easily), you might find moderate-intensity exercises more suitable.
  3. Check How Exercise Affects Your Sleep: Monitor how the exercise routine is affecting your sleep quality. Keeping track helps make necessary adjustments. If a certain type of exercise isn’t helping you sleep better, consider trying a different type, intensity, or duration.
  4. Regular Exercise Helps: Doing exercise regularly, especially moderate-to-vigorous workouts, can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and have better sleep quality. Maintaining a consistent amount of physical activity is key.
  5. Exercise Is a Good Shield: The study suggests that greater amounts of weekly physical activity can act as a protective factor against sleep disturbances in adults with ADHD, particularly those using stimulant medications.

Integrating Exercise Into Daily Life

So, overall, sticking to a regular schedule of moderate-to-vigorous exercise helps keep sleep problems away in adults with ADHD, especially if they take medicines for it.

Here’s how you can make exercise a regular part of your life, even with ADHD:

  1. Set Achievable Goals: Start with goals that you can reach. Don’t aim too high too fast.
  2. Make A Plan: Have a clear schedule for when you’ll exercise. This helps make it a habit.
  3. Pick Activities You Like: Choose exercises that you enjoy. You’re more likely to stick with them.
  4. Mix Exercise into Your Day: Find simple ways to be active. Walk or bike to work, use the stairs, or pick up a hobby that gets you moving.
  5. Get Support: Join a group, or involve friends and family in your exercise routine. They can help keep you on track.
  6. Consider Your Medication: If you’re taking medicine for ADHD, try to work out when it’s most effective. This can help you feel more energetic and less affected by sleep problems.

Other Strategies To Improve Sleep in ADHD

Consider these strategies for improving sleep in ADHD, alongside exercise:

  1. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, and use your bed only for sleep.
  2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help you manage thoughts and behaviors that disrupt sleep. It’s especially useful for tackling insomnia.
  3. Dietary Adjustments: Cut down on caffeine and sugar, especially in the evening. Consider a balanced diet that supports better sleep, like foods rich in magnesium or melatonin.
  4. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: Reduce exposure to screens at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light from devices can interfere with your natural sleep cycle.
  5. Relaxation Techniques: Practice relaxation methods like deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga to calm your mind before bed.
  6. Create a Pre-Sleep Routine: Develop a calming routine before bed, like reading or taking a warm bath, to signal your body it’s time to wind down.

Final Words

Here are two takeaway messages if you’re an adult with ADHD on stimulant medications:

  • Recognize the deep connection between ADHD and sleep issues and prioritize sleep, as good sleep is crucial for keeping your ADHD symptoms under control.
  • Regular exercise is the keyword here, so aim for at least 150 minutes/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Consistent exercise acts as a shield against sleep troubles.

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