Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that affects around 8.4 percent of US children and 2.5 of adults. People with ADHD often have differences in their brain structures and neurological activities that negatively impact their attention span and impulse control.

Sleep deprivation and ADHD

Like many other neurological conditions, the exact causes of ADHD are not entirely clear. Experts know that several factors, including genetic predispositions, issues in the central nervous system, and environmental triggers like exposure to certain toxins, play a role in the development of ADHD. In school-aged kids, ADHD is often first identified in the classroom because children with ADHD often have trouble staying focused on tasks and get distracted easily.

Most children and teens only have trouble falling asleep from time to time, and chronic sleep disorders are rare in kids. Among children with ADHD, however, sleep problems are extremely prevalent. In fact, it is estimated that up to 70 percent of kids with ADHD experience sleep disturbances like having trouble falling and staying asleep, among others. Sleep issues are so common among children with ADHD, that older versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) listed “sleep problems” as a part of the diagnostic criteria for this condition.

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can significantly worsen ADHD symptoms. One recent literature review of sleep problems among school-aged children noted that children with ADHD who reported high levels of daytime sleepiness were more likely to be rated as having poor academic competence. But poor sleep also has negative consequences on children without ADHD.

Because children react differently to sleepiness than adults, it’s not uncommon to see kids who experience chronic sleep deprivation be misdiagnosed with ADHD. While adults usually become fatigued and drowsy, kids can turn unfocused, hyperactive, moody, and impulsive when they don’t get enough sleep.

A study published by the Journal of Sleep Research looking at the sleep habits of 2,463 first to ninth graders, showed that disorders like dyssomnia (difficulty falling asleep), parasomnias (night terrors, sleep-waking, bedwetting, etc.), and sleep-related breathing problems were all associated with ADHD-like symptoms even in children without the condition. A recent study also found that poor sleep quality can mimic ADHD behaviors in children without ADHD.

Treating ADHD-related sleep problems can sometimes turn into a bit of a catch-22 situation. ADHD symptoms like restlessness and hyperactivity can delay sleep onset latency and increase the chances of waking up in the middle of the night. However, the most common treatment used to manage symptoms – stimulant medications – are known to cause side effects like insomnia. For that reason, many parents choose to avoid prescription medications or complement them with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), social skills training, and nutritional supplements.

Fortunately, research has shown that some alternative therapies can be effective at reducing ADHD and poor sleep symptoms. These are five evidence-based supplements that have been shown to help manage ADHD and sleeplessness:

Iron: iron deficiency has been noted to increase the risk of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD. Iron-deficient children and adults who suffer from ADHD may benefit from supplementing with iron to help control their symptoms.

Magnesium: children with ADHD have been observed to have lower levels of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for brain health. In a study evaluating 50 children diagnosed with ADHD, researchers found that those who received a magnesium supplement for six months showed a significant decrease in hyperactive behaviors. Other studies have shown that magnesium can improve insomnia and reduce sleep onset latency.

Melatonin: while melatonin has not been shown to have any effects on ADHD, this naturally-occurring hormone is a popular ingredient in sleeping aids because it can shorten the time needed to fall asleep and can help regulate the body’s internal clock.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: another brain-friendly supplement, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in children with ADHD. Researchers have also observed that children with ADHD appear to have lower omega-3 levels than their peers.

Zinc: decreased zinc levels in children have been linked to trouble concentrating, reduced learning abilities, and ADHD. Research suggests that used in combination with amphetamines, zinc may help reduce the dosage needed to treat kids with ADHD.

Quality sleep is key to both physical and mental health. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. It is an essential function that allows the body and mind to recharge, and be refreshed and alert each day. Improving sleep quality has the potential to reduce ADHD problems and to have a positive impact on the everyday life of those struggling with this disorder as well as their families. Teens and adults with sleep issues may consider a natural sleep supplement with a combination of ingredients proven in clinical studies to support deep restorative sleep.