It seems these days that everyone knows something about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Teachers swap stories about dealing with ADHD students, parents debate the pros and cons of medication, and health organizations like the National Sleep Foundation warn that people with ADHD are more likely to have sleep problems, such as an inability to "turn off their mind" or restless leg syndrome.
As someone with ADHD I can tell you that these problems are not unfounded. I know that my medication--which is a stimulant--can keep me up if I abuse it. I know that I also can't focus and be productive without it so I'm willing to trade a small bad for a big good. But I was curious about what this trade off could look like.
Being an engineer, I'm all about how things work--my body's no exception--and I decided to look at my Zeo data to see what I could find. Before I dive into all the data, let me just let give you a bit of back story here.
I was a Sleep Athlete
I used to be an incredible sleeper; given the time, I could sleep 12+ hours on most nights. I'd fall asleep as soon as I hit the bed and could even fall asleep with the sun in my eyes and friends yapping in my ear during car rides. I never knew what a luxury that was until all of my superhuman sleeping powers came to an end sometime during college.
To be fair, the decline was a gradual thing that I never could have detected. You get older, your sleep quality declines; it's natural. Personally, there was also a lot going on and I really wasn't thinking about my sleep. I was formally diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed a common stimulant to help me focus. My God, what a difference it made! I could suddenly concentrate, study, whatever, whenever, and forever (if needed), and as a result my academics improved--so much that my GPA jumped nearly a whole point.
Take as Directed
The flip side was that these same wonder pills could keep me up.
I once decided to see how long I could stay up by taking the meds as needed. Like most people, I've done my fair share of dumb stuff and that was certainly up there. After being up for 69 hours, I was physically and mentally useless by the end. Not fun and definitely not recommended.In short, I know ADHD meds can keep me awake if I abuse them.
That said, I often wonder how taking them as prescribed affects my sleep. My particular medication's half life is about 13 hours, so when I take a dose in the morning I still have 40% of the drug remaining in my system by bedtime.
As a general rule, I try not to take any medication during the weekend, which means that I have about 11% in my system on Saturday night and 3% by Sunday night. However, I often find myself lying in bed awake at night, frustrated because my mind is endlessly "ranting"--and for this, I blame my meds.
It's all about the Zeo Data, baby
While I like to argue, I generally do it best when I've got some data to back it up.
To prove that my medication can keep me up, I exported my 463 nights of sleep records (collected over the last few years) and crunched them into excel graphs as prettily as I could.
Below is a graph of a summary of all my nights since Nov 2007 (one of the perks of working for Zeo; you get to use the product well before anyone else.)
To get an even better picture, I took that same data set and viewed each sleep phase by percentages.
Generally, my time in REM sleep is at its lowest on Monday and gradually increases until Sunday, when Monday rolls around again, it drops abruptly again. It could be because my body adapts to the drugs retention in my system for most of the week.
During the weekend, the level drops down to 3% and by Monday it needs to re-adapt all over again. Monday is also the day when the effects of my medication are felt most strongly.
To my surprise my deep sleep is consistent through out the week.
My deep sleep occurs earlier in the night--which is normal-- and it seems completely unaffected by both the medication and the late bedtimes.
Yet when I took that same data and graphed it by absolute time, I was shocked to see that my sleep varies so regularly. While lifestyle does impact my sleep (see A Note about Control), the only think that I can think of to explain why I sleep 40 minutes more every single Wednesday than Tuesday is the increase in medication within my system.
It also takes me about 10 more minutes on average to fall asleep on Tuesdays than any other day.
A Note about Control
I am awful at keeping a routine schedule (but I've got an excuse, right?).
My weekend/weekday schedule has a noticeable impact on my sleep, as I typically go out on Friday and Saturday nights. This pushes my bed time back a whopping one and a half hours on average.
However, the data shows that I fall asleep about twice as fast on Friday and Saturday nights than other nights of the week.
If my time to sleep (a.k.a. Time to Z) was influenced by my medication, then I suspect my Time to Z would be the same on Friday as Thursday--and that Saturday and Sunday would be much faster than all the rest. On Sunday, when the medication is almost completely gone from my body, my Time to Z is similar to days when I'm on medication (though this could be from my bedtime shifting forward again).
So does my ADHD medication mess with my sleep? I can make a case for it, but it's not conclusive. I think this calls for some more experimentation and a later blog post, not to mention more data and stories from other ADHD Zeo users. But don't worry; I won't be staying up for 69 hours straight ever again.
Kuji Nakano is an engineer at Zeo and (still) holds the company ZQ record. He was instrumental in the design and development of Zeo Bedside and Zeo Mobile and continues to find new ways to bring sleep science into your home.