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ADHD and Fatigue

Have you ever read a description of people with ADHD as having “high energy levels” and thought “if only”? You’re not alone.

The stereotype goes something like this: ADHD equals hyperactivity and hyperactivity equals Energizer Bunny, right?

The keen skeptic will notice, however, that this is not exactly the most scientific reasoning…

FatigueNow here’s something that is scientific: a scientific study. Can’t get any more scientific than that, right?

This particular study, published in British Journal of Clinical Psychology, compared 243 adults with ADHD, 86 with chronic fatigue syndrome, and 211 with neither, evaluating fatigue symptoms in each group.

To the surprise of exactly no one, the group that reported the highest levels of fatigue was the group with chronic fatigue syndrome.

More interestingly, the lowest levels of fatigue were reported by the “neither” group while the ADHD group was in between, with significantly higher levels of fatigue than the people with neither CFS nor ADHD. The CFS group also reported higher levels of ADHD symptoms than the healthy controls.

So why did the ADHD group report higher levels of fatigue, contrary to the stereotype that people with ADHD have unlimited energy?

We don’t know for sure, since the study didn’t address that question. But what we do know is that having ADHD can be a lot of work:

  • Trying to finish a task when you can’t get stay focused on what you’re supposed to be doing is a lot of work.
  • Having certain tasks take longer than they do for other people is a lot of work.
  • Constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the chaos caused by disorganization and lack of planning is a lot of work.
  • Trying to operate in under-stimulating environments when your brain is craving some kind of stimulation or reward to wake it up is a lot of work.
  • Procrastination is, paradoxically, a lot of work.

Basically, having ADHD can make you tired sometimes.

The idea that ADHD is associated with fatigue isn’t at odds with the idea that ADHD is associated with hyperactivity. Think about it this way: for someone with hyperactive symptoms, being in an environment that requires patience, self-control, and ability to tolerate boredom can be really tiring and energy-sapping.

I do think there are some situations where having ADHD can be conducive to being “high-energy.” Situations where hyperfocus is involved, for example. But there are just as many situations where it’s more work having ADHD than not having ADHD, all else being equal. So it’s not really a shocker that people with ADHD report higher levels of fatigue on average.

What do you think about the link between ADHD and fatigue? Please share below!

Image: Flickr/Janet Swisher under CC BY-SA 2.0

ADHD and Fatigue

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). ADHD and Fatigue. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2016
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