Add Diet to Sleep and ADHD Problems

by | May 9, 2011 | ADHD Symptom Control | 3 comments

diet and sleepIn my last post, Sleep Problems for Adults with ADD / ADHD , I mentioned how ADHD adults often have trouble staying asleep. I looked for research to find out why, discovering most studies dealt with how sleep problems increase ADHD symptoms. There was no research on ADHD’s impact on staying asleep.

Perhaps many of us are as restless and fidgety during the night as we are during the day. I have no supporting research to back that up, though my darling husband says sharing a bed with me is like sleeping with a blender.

However, I did find lots of research about how certain foods and beverages interrupt the sleep cycle, not just for adult and children with ADD or ADHD, but for everyone. Since numerous studies do show a lack of sleep worsens ADHD symptoms we need to do whatever we can to get a full night’s sleep.

Do you find yourself waking up in the wee hours of the night unable to fall back to sleep? Your diet may be part of the problem. These foods and beverages are known to disrupt sleep:

  • Chocolate – If you’ve enjoyed a yummy chocolate dessert and find yourself awake staring at the ceiling at 2 AM chocolate may be the culprit. Along with a punch of caffeine, chocolate contains other stimulants known to increase heart rate and disrupt sleep. If you can’t resist chocolate in the evening, milk chocolate has less caffeine than dark chocolate.
  • Alcohol – Studies show that a moderate dose of alcohol a few hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep. I find I can have one glass of wine and still sleep fine. When I add a martini or another glass of wine I’m sure to be awake in the middle of the night.
  • Coffee, Tea and Sodas – Many ADD / ADHD adults drink a lot of coffee, soda and tea in an attempt to self medicate Attention Deficit. If you’re having trouble sleeping all night through, try cutting down on caffeine ladened drinks in the afternoon.
  • MSG – Sleep experts suggest avoiding foods containing the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG) to see if you sleep better. MSG is heavily used in processed and Asian food. Only recently did I notice how each time I eat something with a lot MSG I’m awake around 2 AM for a couple of hours with a pounding heartbeat.

I’m not suggesting you eliminate chocolate, coffee, wine or teriyaki chicken from your diet. Especially the dark chocolate and wine which have health benefits. Simply experiment to see how much you can have before your sleep is disrupted. Happily I can tolerate one glass of wine and a little bit of chocolate in the evening without causing problems to my sleep and my ADD / ADHD.


  1. Nelle

    Thank you so much for this article! I have what I call “flare ups” with my ADD during which times it is much worse than normal (… whatever “normal” is for an ADD sufferer!). After reading your article I got to thinking that perhaps the flare ups occur during periods when I am having trouble sleeping. I will definitely follow your tips to see if I can improve my sleep patterns. Nelle

  2. Ann

    I’m writing this at 3:12am unable to sleep once again. Last night I didn’t take melatonin which I’ve been experimenting with over the last week. Tonight I will be taking 5 mg slow release dose. Best tip I’ve learned so far, although I completely agree that certain drinks/foods can have an affect on sleep and ADHD too.

  3. drrubin

    I was posting my own blog entry on lack of sleep and associated health outcomes, including worsening ADHD symptoms in children when I came across your blog. Very interesting entries! It’s nice to see the issues from an adult perspective since most of the focus seems to be on pediatric ADHD. You’ve opened my eyes to a whole ‘nother demographic with the disorder.


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