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How Can Hyperactivity and Daydreaming Go Together?

Picture a daydreamer. What image comes to mind?

Now picture someone who’s hyperactive. I bet that conjures up a different set of associations.

One of the things about ADHD is that it’s a disorder where apparent opposites like daydreaming and hyperactivity live together.

DaydreamingGenerally, I think of a daydreamer as someone who is lost in their thoughts, whose mind drifts away and wanders from the task at hand. But I think of hyperactivity as making someone impatient, fidgety, overly energetic, jumping ahead to the next thing – or between multiple things at once.

However, it’s not an accident that these different behaviors both come under the umbrella of ADHD. In fact, mind-wandering and hyperactivity both come from a lack of self-control, an impaired ability to tell your brain what to focus on and when to focus on it.

A wandering mind, by definition, is wandering away from something. Rather than staying fixed on the “correct” task, your mind is naturally drawn to something more enticing, and from there perhaps somewhere else.

Hyperactivity too involves an escape from what your brain is “supposed” to be doing. Your mind is impatiently drawn to the next thing, or impulsively drawn into a new course of action and away from the process of making a prudent decision.

Both daydreaming and hyperactivity are fueled by an aversion to understimulating activities. The ADHD brain, always in search of stimulation, looks elsewhere to find that stimulation. In the case of daydreaming, that “elsewhere” is in your stream of consciousness while in hyperactivity it’s in external activity.

Looked at from this perspective, it’s really not a contradiction that one person can be both hyperactive and a “daydreamer,” just like it’s not a contradiction that someone with ADHD can have both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

Of course, many people with ADHD are more inclined either to the inattentive or the hyperactive side of the disorder. But more often than not, people who have one aspect of ADHD will have some elements of the other as well, and there’s not much paradoxical about this when you realize that low self-control and low tolerance for understimulating situations play into both types of ADHD symptoms.

Image: Flickr/Natalia Medd

How Can Hyperactivity and Daydreaming Go Together?

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. (2019). How Can Hyperactivity and Daydreaming Go Together?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jan 2019
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