Harvard Mental Health Letter

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sleep

Insomnia and other sleep problems may worsen symptoms of ADHD; treatment options exist.

Parents and clinicians report that sleep problems affect 25% to 50% of children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The most typical problems include bedtime resistance and difficulty falling asleep.

Studies using objective measures of sleep quality have produced inconsistent results, however. For example, studies using an actigraph, a lightweight monitor that people can use at home, have found that sleep in youths with ADHD is similar to that of other youths when it comes to parameters such as sleep onset, duration, and quality. At the same time, actigraph studies suggest that youths with ADHD are more active during the night (assessed by frequency and duration of movements), and they show greater variability in sleep patterns from one night to the next — suggesting unstable regulation of sleep and arousal.

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