Sleep Issues: Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Health Writer

ADHD medications are stimulants and although they calm individuals with ADHD, one of the side effects is trouble sleeping. But ADHD itself can cause difficulty sleeping so it can sometimes be hard to know whether insomnia is caused by the medication or whether it from the ADHD.  According to Dr. Ari Tuckman, "Some people wind up with sleep problems as a side effect of their medication, but many of them already had sleep problems."

If you or your child is having trouble sleeping, the first step is to determine what is causing the problem. Knowing your or your child's sleep patterns without medication helps. Either before beginning medication or during a break from medication, keep a journal of sleep habits, answering the following questions:

  • How difficult is it to get to sleep?
  • What time do you (or your child) go to bed?
  • How long does it take to fall asleep?
  • How often do you (or your child) wake up during the night?
  • What time do you get up?

This information will help you and your doctor determine if there is sleep problems associated with ADHD or if you have a sleep disorder. Sleep problems can mimic symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity and poor impulse control or can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Sleep problems not associated with ADHD can be caused by sleep apnea, allergies, asthma and restless leg syndrome. If there is a secondary problem causing the sleeping difficulty, your doctor can help you find solutions to help you get a good night's sleep.

If your insomnia is being caused by your ADHD, using relaxation techniques, adding exercise to your daily routine, eating right and creating a bedtime routine to help transition from daytime activities to sleep can help. For children, taking a warm bath, reading a story together or spending quiet, calm time together can help transition from activity to rest and help a child get to sleep.

When medication is causing problems sleeping, talk with your doctor about ways to compensate for this. Your doctor might suggest taking the medication earlier, even changing the time you take medication by one half hour may help. If lack of sleep is interfering with your, or your child's, ability to function during the day, your doctor might want to lower your dose or try a different medication.

Terry Matlen shared the results of a study that showed how stimulant medication can help adults with ADHD get to sleep. Surprisingly the study showed that adults with ADHD actually improved their sleep habits when treated with stimulant medication shortly before bedtime. One theory is that the stimulant medication slowed thoughts enough to let the adults fall asleep. Some parents have found that giving children stimulants before bed have helped them get to sleep quicker. Of course, before using stimulants at night or adding stimulant medication to you or your child's bedtime routine should be discussed with your physician and should be closely monitored to make sure the medication is not causing additional sleep problems.

In a previous post, I shared some tips for parents to help their children get to sleep. A few of the tips include:

  • Stick to your bedtime routine, even during the summer months, as much as possible. Set a specific bedtime and keep with that bedtime, even if a child is allowed to sit in bed and quietly read or play.
  • Create a buffer time to lower down the activity level for an hour or so before bedtime. Find quieter activities such as coloring, reading or playing quietly.
  • Set up a quiet time before bedtime. Use this time to sit and read with your child or talk about the day's events. Make this a transitional time between active play and sleep.


"ADHD and Sleep,"   Reviewed 2010, Feb 24, Patti Teel,

"Poor Sleeping Habits," 2008, May 28, Dr. Ari Tuckman,

"Using Stimulants to Improve Sleep in Adults with ADHD," 2008, Mar 4, Terry Matlen,