A man laying in bed.
Stress and medication can cause insomnia in people with ADHD.

How Does ADHD Cause Insomnia?

When’s the last time you went to bed on time? For the average adult, getting the sleep you need is not easy. For children, sleep is something they do when they feel like it. Forcing them to go to sleep usually does not go well. The twist? Even people without ADHD will have trouble sleeping. So, when you add ADHD into the mix, this is when you notice a strong connection between insomnia and ADHD. This article will explain why that connection exists and what you can do about it.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a broad term that describes people who have inherited genes that cause their brain to function differently from the brain most humans have.

A person with ADHD has a brain that looks “normal”. What makes an ADHD brain different is that it functions differently at its’ front area. That front area is the part of the brain directly behind your forehead known as the prefrontal cortex.

What Causes ADHD?

Nobody knows what causes ADHD, but we do know that if someone has ADHD, they also have lower levels of dopamine than a non-ADHD person. Dopamine is a chemical in the human brain that makes you want to seek rewards, feel motivated and physically move your body.

The key thing to remember about dopamine is that it helps you focus, learn and take action. If you have a shortage of dopamine, you will focus less, learn less and take less action.

ADHD Symptoms

It is believed that ADHD affects the human brain’s ability to intake dopamine. Evidence to support this theory comes from the fact that ADHD is treated with stimulant medication, which is medication that stimulates the intake of dopamine.

Common symptoms of ADHD:

  • Easily being distracted
  • Saying the wrong things at the wrong time
  • Reckless decision making
  • Unintentional social blunders
  • Poor time management
  • Sensory overload

Notice how these symptoms can be caused by a shortage of dopamine. For example, many children with ADHD in school get distracted easily because they are bored.

Their boredom is caused by a shortage of dopamine. Of course, most other children are bored in school too, but unlike a child with ADHD the other children have dopamine that can help them focus despite being bored. The same can apply for adults at a job, college students, etc.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that describes people who have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep for at least three days out of a seven-day week. Insomnia can last for months and even years if the cause of it goes untreated.

Just about anything can cause insomnia. Environmental factors that cause insomnia include light, noise, working late hours and temperatures that are too high or too low. Stress, pain and other disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can also cause insomnia.

People who nap during the day or fail to get enough exercise are more likely to have insomnia. Certain health conditions such as asthma or pregnancy increase the risk of insomnia. Things like caffeine, alcohol ,sugar, nicotine and illegal drugs can cause insomnia as well.

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Why Are People With ADHD More Likely to Have Insomnia?


The medication used to treat ADHD is, in the majority of cases, a stimulant medication. Like the name implies, stimulant medication will stimulate whoever takes it. Coffee also stimulates people because it contains a stimulant drug everyone knows by name: caffeine. You would not take caffeine to help you go to bed, would you? So, by that same logic, ADHD stimulant medication probably does not help people sleep, especially when taken at bedtime.

ADHD-Related Stress

There’s also the stress of having ADHD and often feeling misunderstood or alone. Whether it be a child or an adult, ADHD can make your life slightly more stressful than most. Once you learn to cope with your ADHD, the stress disappears or at least becomes manageable.

Dopamine-Seeking Desire

Because people with ADHD have a shortage of dopamine, many of their actions are motivated by their body’s desire to get more dopamine. However, it is a subconscious desire. Nobody lays in bed at night thinking, “I need more dopamine!”.

If one of the following applies to an activity, it is likely someone with ADHD will try to perform or be involved in that activity:

  • It’s challenging
  • It’s urgent
  • It makes you curious
  • It’s interesting

Anything That Increases Dopamine Levels in the Brain

As you have just learned from this article, certain activities and ADHD stimulant medication can increase dopamine levels. Because dopamine is what motivates someone to do something, it also indirectly motivates someone to not sleep.

Before bedtime, avoid anything, based on your individual perspective, you perceive as challenging, urgent, curious or interesting. Common culprits include things like cell phones, the TV and toys.

5 Tips to Cope With Insomnia When You Have ADHD

  • Avoid challenging, urgent, curious and interesting activities before and during bed time. As explained in the previous section, those types of activities will increase dopamine levels, which will make it harder for you to sleep.
  • Exercise hours before bedtime. Exercise has been shown to improve ADHD symptoms. Not to mention, it comes with several health benefits, including improved sleep.
  • Establish a daily routine. If you do not make time for something, you will not do it. The same applies to everything, including sleep.

  • Get help. If you have insomnia, especially insomnia that lasts for more than three weeks, you might need professional help. You can have therapy sessions either in-person or online. If you do not want to try therapy, try talking to someone about your insomnia and see if you can get to the bottom of the problem.
  • Don’t try to cure insomnia with medication. Insomnia cannot be cured using medication, especially the cheap over the counter “sleep aids” that come with a bunch of warning labels. Medication can possibly worsen your insomnia and cause other problems. Consult a professional before you buy any sleep aids or use prescription medication that is meant to improve sleep.