High-functioning anxiety and ADHD are different diagnoses, but they both share quite a few triggers, plus have other similarities. These are two of the most common mental health disorders diagnosed in the United States, and doctors argue about which one breeds the other. It’s a chicken or egg argument that leads nowhere. Why? Because doctors often use the same set of drugs to treat both disorders.
Medical Doctors most often recommend medications as the main treatment strategy, but medication does not target the true cause and is a temporary solution. If you are one of those people who really believes that 5% of adult brains have a chemical disorder that causes ADHD that must be treated by a drug…or if you really believe that nearly 20% of adult brains have a chemical disorder that causes anxiety that must be treated by a drug…read no further. There is nothing for you here.
What if part (or all) of the solution is shut-eye? What if sleep cures ADHD and Anxiety? Sleep. Yes. It’s a bona fide strategy. You may even call it a treatment.
In this article, I will review three main symptoms anxiety and ADHD share, and a couple of ways to successfully overcome them, plus the importance of sleep in both of these mental health problems.
Shared Characteristics Between Anxiety and ADHD
Experts of each diagnostic category say there are some significant factors that differentiate ADHD and high-functioning anxiety, but it’s the similarities between the two conditions that are important, especially as they relate to sleep. Those diagnosed with anxiety have an increased likelihood of struggling with insomnia, hypersensitivity, and lack of focus, which coincidentally, are three hallmark symptoms of ADHD. Even more interesting is the fact that anxiety itself, difficulty concentrating, hypersensitivity, and other symptoms associated with ADHD could all be indications of chronic sleep deprivation.1 And, insomnia isn’t the only cause of sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea seems to be one of the most common causes of adults not getting enough sleep at night.
Understanding Sleep Apnea and Sleep Deprivation
Though sleep apnea affects upwards of 25% of American men it is often overlooked as a cause of ill health. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep. Two of the most common symptoms associated with the condition are nighttime snoring and daytime fatigue. Because the breathing of those with sleep apnea is interrupted throughout the night, sometimes hundreds of times, people with this condition tend to suffer from symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.2 They might not even recognize it.
Coming full circle in a very interesting way, chronic sleep deprivation has been documented as a cause for certain mental health conditions, like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and ADHD.3 This means that, while insomnia is listed as a symptom of both ADHD and anxiety, sleep deprivation itself can cause both disorders as well. We are back to the chicken or the egg argument. Then again, it seems simple enough to test, doesn’t it? If you improve your sleep, do you experience less anxiety? Is your attention and focus better?
Successfully Overcoming These Symptoms
Although it’s estimated that approximately 80% of sleep apnea cases currently go undiagnosed, many doctors are relatively unaware of the sleep deprivation/mental health connection associated with sleep apnea.4 Though nearly 50% of American report getting less than 7 hours of sleep as well as calling it ‘poor sleep’, causing an epidemic of exhaustion, many doctors do not even discuss sleeplessness as a cause of ADHD or high-functioning anxiety. Instead, diagnosing someone with a condition like ADHD or high-functioning anxiety is typically followed by a prescription.
Has your doctor ever asked you in depth questions about the quality or quantity of your sleep? It may not be possible in that short 15 minute appointment slot.
The old-timer doctor who told his anxious patient to ‘try this’ was onto something, “Listen up. Here is your prescription. For the next three weeks: Eat your dinner no later than 7 p.m. Get ready for bed at 8 p.m. Go to bed at 9 p.m. Come back to see me after you’ve done this, and I’ll know if you need drugs.” He knew the importance of sleep in brain and body healing, and the connection between the quality of sleep and the quality of mental health.
Whatever you have that ails you, have you tried to improve your sleep as the solution? If you haven’t yet read it, read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. If that doesn’t convince you that sleep can cure just about anything, I’ll be suprised. Sleep is a magical elixir.
Doctors Can’t Seem to Get Away From the Chemical Approach.
Wait. Oh, yeah. That’s the only thing they learn.
The combination of drugs and behavioral therapy is the most common – and often the first, and only – approach to tackling the symptoms of anxiety and/or ADHD. That’s medicine for you.
Drugs are viewed as the most effective solution, especially because this combination can successfully manage the symptoms in the short-term. However, drugs like Adderall (a common pharmaceutical approach for managing ADHD), can have serious long-term effects. Most pharmaceuticals used to manage these two conditions carry the risk of side effects, like insomnia, stroke, anxiety, aggression, and even addiction. Furthermore, how effective can any behavioral therapy get when the body and mind are altered by the pharmaceuticals? Once the drugs are in the physiology, can anyone stay in touch with a behavior to change?
The Natural Solution:
For most people, the first thought that comes to mind when mentioning the “chemical” approach is pharmaceutical drugs. And, while drugs can be used to help temporarily manage symptoms, alternative long-term solutions make sense. After all, natural chemicals, such as Melatonin, Vitamin D and Magnesium, can also help manage conditions like anxiety and ADHD, and do not have long warning inserts accompanying their packaging.
Melatonin: Not only does getting enough sleep help make treatments for anxiety and ADHD more effective, but the “sleep hormone” melatonin could be used to successfully treat these conditions. Melatonin has shown equal effectiveness for treating anxiety in adults when compared to medication and doesn’t have nearly as many side effects.5
Melatonin offers the brain help to get the rest it needs to reset, recharge, and face another day. It is a critical step in your natural circadian rhythm. Melatonin can help fight brain aging and degeneration, and protect you from all sorts of neurological and mental health conditions.8
Vitamin D: A critical vitamin for sleep quality and the sleep-wake cycle is Vitamin D. Supplementation is considered beneficial for managing symptoms of ADHD.6 Research has found that only about 8% of people with ADHD have levels of Vitamin D within the normal range, leading to the hypothesis that some cases of ADHD might be diet-related.
Magnesium: Along with Vitamin D, researchers are concluding that both ADHD and anxiety could be related to magnesium deficiency.7 In fact, after just 8 weeks of supplementing magnesium with Vitamin D, ADHD-related social disruptions and anxiety can be reduced.
Proper Sleep is Vital to a Healthy Life, Calm Brain and Youthful Appearance
Along with drinking water and eating nutritious food, sleep is one of the most critical ingredients for a healthy life. Without enough sleep, your physical and mental health is guaranteed to suffer and decline, severely. While many people seem to believe that insomnia and sleep disturbances are simply a symptom of ADHD or anxiety, new evidence surfaces regularly proving that it may be the cause. This means that improving your sleep could lead to the complete disappearance of mental health problems.
Healthy sleep has been proven to be the most important factor in predicting mood, self-confidence, strong immunity, and longevity. It’s more influential than exercise, diet, or your genes. Every system of your body is affected by the quality and quantity of your sleep, and no part relies on sleep more than your brain. Sleep gives your nervous system the chance to quiet down to repair and restore itself. Without sleep, the fabric of the human nervous system – even the tiny nerve cells, called neurons – starts to malfunction.
If you have not slept well for a few days, the amount of sleep you need increases. Sleep deprivation creates something called a ‘sleep debt’. Scientists do not yet know how such a deficit is ever repaid. And, no, the human body does not adapt to getting inadequate sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation is one form of torture, guaranteed to make anyone suffer with impaired judgment, slow reaction times, brain fog, memory loss, confusion, hallucinations and paranoia.
Contrary to popular belief, your body doesn’t actually adapt to getting inadequate sleep. Though you might get used to functioning with less sleep by lowering your expectations of yourself (and getting accustomed to feeling suboptimal), it’s a poor choice for your future. The best way to handle sleep debt is by not getting yourself in sleep debt. Get consistent, adequate sleep. (For an adult, that means 8 hours of sleep each and every night.) And, yes, you can use naps and meditation to enhance your resting state and reduce your need for as much sleep. Still, you need sleep. Night-time sleep. The rule is to sleep when the sun is down.
No Sleep = Nasty Mental States
Sleep debt is likely to increase anxiety levels. Many studies have demonstrated short term and chronic sleep deprivation increases anxiety, and depression, plus it increases the chance of accidents, as well as violence to self and others. Sleep deprivation imbalances your hormone levels and causes your adrenaline levels to rise. Who needs that? Isn’t there enough stress in the world, already?
It’s time we refuse drugs as the first line of treatment for mental health conditions like ADHD and high functioning anxiety, and, instead, try, first, the body’s inherent healing mechanism and great regulator – sleep.
Instead of turning to synthetic pharmaceuticals with their side effects and inevitable lack of efficacy, how might ADHD and high functioning anxiety be minimized (or even stopped) by restoring the body’s nutritional deficiencies?
Sleep and proper nutrition have always been necessary for a healthy body, mind…life. It’s part of our programming. That hasn’t changed in our modern age. So, what steps do you want to take to improve your sleep and nutritional status? Or, do you want to wing it…and take your chances?
- Clinic, S. M. (2007, Dec 10). CHRONIC INSOMNIA AND STRESS SYSTEM. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2128619/
- Gould, J. (2020, August 21). Sleep Apnea. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea
- Mental Health, H. (2019, March 18). Sleep and mental health. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
- AA, A. (2020, Jan 01). SLEEP APNEA INFORMATION FOR CLINICIANS. Sleep Apnea.org. https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea-information-clinicians/
- Cochrane, D. (2015, April 01). Melatonin for pre‐ and postoperative anxiety in adults. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464333/
- Iran Journal of Child Neurology,. (2015, Jan 01). The Relationship between Serum Vitamin D Level and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4670977/
- Prevention Medicine, J. (2020, Jan 24). Effect of Vitamin D and Magnesium Supplementation on Behavior Problems in Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7011463/
- Gonzalez, G. (2020, July 01). Melatonin: The Brain Hormone. Life Extension Magazine. https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2013/9/melatonin-the-brain-hormone