Fatigue and ADHD
Fatigue is one of the symptoms often associated with ADHD. It is easy to overlook since a lot of attention is placed on the more restless, frenetic, and impulsive side of the condition.
There is increasing, though not yet definitive, evidence of a link between chronic fatigue and ADHD in adults. There are likely other distinctive sources of fatigue, such as sleep difficulties, which are common to adults with ADHD, or any health conditions for which adults with ADHD might be at elevated risk due to poor health monitoring. Tiredness is also an effect of many prescribed stimulants as they wear off later in the day.g
While researchers have not conclusively shown why ADHD causes fatigue in some people, they suggest one possible explanation is the condition’s effects on dopamine. ADHD can affect dopamine levels, making it more difficult for the body to respond to this important neurotransmitter. Dopamine plays an important role in motivation, reward, pleasure, emotional regulation, and executive function.
Potential Causes of Fatigue
There are a number of underlying reasons for the exhaustion often experience by individuals with ADHD. These include:
- Cognitive load – This refers to the strain on one’s working memory. Working memory is one of the main areas of difficulty in adult ADHD. Other components of cognitive load include decision-making and emotional management. All of these processes guide behavior, including task management.
- Motivation – Individuals with ADHD may find daily tasks overwhelming and struggle to complete them. This low sense of motivation can feel similar to fatigue, especially if a person feels unable to keep up with their responsibilities.
- Sleep issues – Problems falling asleep or getting quality sleep are common with ADHD. Often the sleep cycle is shifted by several hours which can mean being out of sync with the way today’s world is designed to work.
- Anxiety & depression – ADHD is often accompanied by the comorbidities of depression and anxiety, both of which can leave you feeling exhausted.
- Treatment – For some people with ADHD, fatigue ma be a symptom of their treatment rather than the ADHD itself. Stimulant medications can cause fatigue if a person stops using them suddenly, especially if they were taking high doses.
So, if you have ADHD and are experiencing chronic fatigue, what can you do?
Steps to Help Alleviate Fatigue
There are a number of straightforward steps you can take which can help recharge the energy your brain needs to cope with the routine demands of daily life.
- Reduce stress – Long term stress can be exhausting and a detriment to both your mental and physical health. Examine the areas of your life that are causing the greatest stress or anxiety. Make changes where necessary, and develop coping strategies if it is not possible to immediately eliminate the source of stress.
- Get more sleep – Sleep can be especially problematic for those with ADHD. Creating a sleep routine. This might involve setting a schedule of how and when you prepare to go to sleep at night and eliminating screens and distractions right before bed.
- Exercise more often – Exercise helps your body burn energy as well as releases endorphins in your brain, which help you to focus better and feel and function better overall. This can lead to sleep better when we exercise, which also helps prevent fatigue.
- Eat better foods – Your diet impacts almost every aspect of your health. However, diet plays an especially pivotal role in how your body responds to ADHD and fatigue. Avoiding thinks like junk food, sugar and caffeine can help with how you feel and the quality of sleep you are able to get each night.
- Try trigeminal nerve stimulation – Trigeminal nerve stimulation is a type of noninvasive brain stimulation. The low electrical signals may reduce hyperactivity. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a trigeminal nerve stimulation device for children with ADHD who are not taking medication.
- Consider therapy – Psychotherapy can help an individual understand their diagnosis, develop coping skills, and manage their symptoms. It may also help with relationships. For example, couples counseling can help couples in which one partner has ADHD better manage and understand their symptoms.
- Take your medications – ADHD medications can help with focus and attention and help with some of the brain overload that causes exhaustion. Changes in the level and schedule of your medications should be done in consultation with your physician.
All of these steps should be customized to your personal situation and capacities. The goal is to conserve your brainpower so you can redirect it to things that will help you enjoy a better quality of life. ADHD can definitely be fatiguing. The good news is that the steps to feeling less tired are within your control.