Getting enough quality sleep is essential for our health, safety and quality of life, but most Americans simply don’t get enough of it. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one-third of the people in the U.S.–more than 100 million people–get less than seven hours of sleep per night. While sleep needs vary from one person to another, the National Sleep Foundation recommends at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults, including the elderly.
In addition to increasing the risk of physical conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, ongoing sleep disruption has been linked to several mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. As neurologist Russell Foster explains in his 2013 TED talk, mental illness and sleep are actually “physically linked within the brain,” and chronic (ongoing) lack of sleep can make mental illness symptoms worse.
Sleep Deficits and ADD
Lack of sleep has also been linked to ADD. Between 25-50 percent of people with ADD report that they experience sleep problems. Although earlier studies found that sleep disorders among ADD patients were caused by stimulant medication, psychiatrist Hae Kook Lee writes that “it is now generally accepted that the effect of stimulants is just one of the causes of these patients’ sleep problems, and behavioral symptoms related to ADD can cause sleep problems,” including a higher level of nighttime activity, more frequent night awakenings, and shorter total sleep time. It also takes people with ADD longer to go from full wakefulness to sleep (“sleep latency”), and they experience more difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep (“sleep efficiency”).
Although most studies of sleep disruption and ADD have focused on children, a 2006 study examined the possibility of confusing forms of hypersomnia (extreme tiredness) and adult ADD. The researchers found a “high percentage of symptom overlap,” which suggested “possible misdiagnosing of both conditions, co-morbidity with sleep problems in adult [ADD], and the validation of the used scales” to diagnose adult ADD.