the impact of insomnia on ADHD diagnoses

January 2021

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD), describes the inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity of a person. Outside of those characteristics, ADHD can sometimes include emotional instability. According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, by the Karolinska Institutet, a medical school located in Stockholm, Sweden: after a sleepless night, individuals with high ADHD traits that do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis are less able to perform tasks involving attentional regulation or emotional control than individuals with low ADHD traits.

The study dove deep into the sensitivity to the effects of insomnia, depending on the individual. Researchers wanted to investigate how sleep deprivation affects an individual’s executive functions, which is to say the central cognitive processes that govern our thoughts and actions. Furthermore, the study was also to confirm that people with ADHD tendencies are more sensitive to insomnia, and with this, would come a more severe functional impairment.

ADHD is commonly diagnosed once the symptoms interfere with an individual’s everyday life and tasks. This particular study included 180 healthy participants between the ages of 17 and 45 without an ADHD diagnosis. The groups were split into two, and one group was allowed to sleep normally, while the other was purposely deprived of sleep.The study illuminated a lot of things for the research team. For one, the sleep-deprived group showed a worse performance in tasks the next day. Of the participants in this group, those with high ADHD traits were more vulnerable to sleep deprivation and showed greater impairment than those with low ADHD traits. Dr. Petrovic felt these results were important and telling. This study showed that there could be more behind the reasons that younger people do not get as much sleep as people did ten years ago. Insomnia is an ADHD trait, but it is considered subclinical, which means it is not severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms towards ADHD. Seeing the participants struggle with daily tasks due to the ADHD / insomnia combination shows that this could end up being a clinically significant diagnosis towards ADHD.

The study was led by Dr. Predrag Petrovic, Dr. Tina Sundelin, and Dr. John Axelsson. Dr. Petrovic said that many people have symptoms of ADHD, but they may not be prevalent enough to warrant a diagnosis.

Written by Kyle Decapua

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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