Most health experts treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders as unrelated conditions. However, the two conditions may be fundamentally connected, according a recent review of various studies that point to a link between the two conditions by Prof. Sandra Kooij from the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and her team of researchers. As a psychiatrist with 15 years experience specializing in ADHD, Prof. Kooij says that sleep disorders tend to aggravate ADHD symptoms.
These symptoms include fatigue, concentration problems, sleep problems, difficulties in self-organization, short attention span, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Additionally, ADHD patients also tend to suffer from psychological or neurological problems including oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dyslexia, depression and anxiety.
Most ADHD Patients Tend to Develop Sleep Disorders
The results of the aforementioned study, which Prof. Koonji presented at the 2017 edition of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress held in Paris, France, reveal that there is a relationship between ADHD and sleep disturbances. For this reason, Prof. Kooij and her team of researchers recommend further research into the subject. ADHD and sleep disorders are essentially two sides of the same mental and psychological coin, says Prof. Kooij. During their investigation, Prof. Kooij and her team noted several interesting facts about the presence of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia and narcolepsy in ADHD patients. In particular, the researchers noted that most of the people suffering from ADHD also suffer from sleep disorders.
Severe Health Implications Hypothesis
Because the patients’ physiological aspects of sleep are affected, ADHD patients with lifetime sleep disorders could potentially develop more severe health complications. To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers measured the onset of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in the saliva of ADHD patients with sleep onset problems (late sleepers) and a control group of ADHD patients without sleep onset problems. When the researchers compared the results of the two groups of patients, they found that the onset of melatonin occurred about 1.5 hours later than normal in the former group. Movement patterns and temperature during 24 hours also occurred later than normal among late sleepers. Based on these findings, it is likely that other physical processes are delayed as well. If this is the case, it could lead to severe health implications.
ADHD Management Strategies
Some of the strategies that people suffering from ADHD can use to manage sleep disorders and other ADHD symptoms, such as depression and seasonal affective disorder, include:
Melatonin supplements — Research indicates that melatonin supplements can benefit people with certain sleep disturbances including delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPS).
Bright light therapy — A study published in the 2008 edition of the Neuro Endocrinology Letters journal found that bright light therapy is an effective treatment option for seasonal affective disorder.
These strategies can protect ADHD patients with lifetime sleep disorders from developing more severe health complications, explains Prof. Kooij. In fact, Prof. Kooij’s hypothesis entails using melatonin supplements at night to advance the late sleep cycle in such patients and/or bright light therapy in the morning. While administering these therapies, the researchers will measure the effects of the therapies on patient’s glucose levels, blood pressure and heart rate, according to Prof. Kooij.
While Prof. Kooij and her team believe the strong link between ADHD and disturbed sleep patterns need to be further investigated, she cautions that sleep disorders may not necessary be key to ADHD diagnoses.