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Inattentive Sleep, Hyperactive Sleep

In my last post, I talked about some sleep issues I’ve had, and the topic of ADHD and sleep problems in general. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t slept very well the night before I wrote that post. Some people, when they don’t sleep well, complain about it the next day. I write a whole blog post about it, complete with citations of scientific studies!

Speaking of scientific studies. Almost as soon as that blog post went live, an interesting new study was published on the topic of ADHD and sleep. So today, we have another sleep-themed ADHD Millennial post.

AsleepThe study that was published is, more or less, a catalog of ADHD-related sleep disorders. The authors of the study used data from 942 people to learn about which sleep disorders are more likely to come with ADHD – and, interestingly, whether those disorders are more associated with inattention or hyperactivity.

As it turned out, people with more severe ADHD symptoms were also more likely to experience a whole range of sleep problems, including obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep if they do fall asleep, and periodic limb movement disorder (had to look that one up). They’re also apparently more likely to have “extreme evening chronotype,” which essentially means they’re irredeemable night owls.

Some of these sleep problems might ring bells for you. Even worse, they might ring the little alarm clock inside your brain at 3:30 in the morning. Putting on my self-diagnosis cap for a minute, the two sleep problems I talked about in my last post seem to fall under the categories of “difficulty staying asleep” and “extreme evening chronotype.”

The study also found out that some of these problems appear to be more closely associated with inattentive or hyperactive symptoms. For example, restless leg syndrome, difficulty going to sleep, and difficulty staying asleep seem to be more prevalent specifically among people with more severe hyperactive symptoms. Extreme evening chronotype, on the other hand, looks like it’s related more closely to inattentive symptoms.

I found this interesting because I’d never really thought before about whether my sleep problems are more closely related to my inattentive symptoms or my hyperactive symptoms. Partly because I’m not even sure there’s a clear line where my inattentive symptoms end and my hyperactive symptoms begin. Both seem to more or less have to do with an inability to tell my brain what to do.

One way to think of hyperactive symptoms in particular would be, yes, as an inability to tell your brain what to do, but specifically an inability to tell your brain to wait, calm down, stop, be patient. In this light, it makes sense that hyperactive symptoms could involve not being able to tell your brain to put things on pause in order to get a good night’s sleep. And the idea that hyperactivity would be linked to restless leg syndrome and not being able to fall asleep does make a certain intuitive sense.

As far as inattentive symptoms being linked to being a night owl, I’m not really sure how that one works. In fact, I’d bet that even people who research this for a living have only speculative guesses about what’s going on there. It’s worth keeping in mind that the idea of dividing ADHD into “inattentive” and “hyperactive” symptoms is an intentionally simplistic model, so of course someone could have only inattentive symptoms and still experience insomnia.

But I did find the general idea that certain sleep problems relate to certain kinds of ADHD symptoms interesting. I’d be really curious to hear if the results from this study line up with your personal experience – d’you have some of the sleep problems the study described, and d’you think those problems relate to specific ADHD symptoms? Thanks for sharing!

Image: Flickr/Lottie

Inattentive Sleep, Hyperactive Sleep

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. (2017). Inattentive Sleep, Hyperactive Sleep. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 11 Dec 2017
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