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ADHD Fatigue: Why People With ADHD May Feel Tired All the Time

The connection between ADHD and fatigue
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly associated with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. However, many are not aware that chronic fatigue can also be a significant part of the ADHD experience [1*] . The persistent feeling of being tired is not just about physical exhaustion; it can also manifest as mental and emotional weariness.

This article explores the intricacies of ADHD-related fatigue. We will delve into its various forms and the underlying causes that contribute to this overwhelming sense of tiredness.

Different symptoms of ADHD may feel overwhelming. Contact us to learn how to manage them.

Can ADHD Make You Tired All the Time?

ADHD often leads to a profound sense of tiredness, going beyond usual feelings of fatigue. This encompasses not just physical tiredness but also mental and emotional exhaustion. Individuals with ADHD might frequently find themselves with no energy, feeling drained from the constant effort needed to focus, stay organized, and manage impulses.

In work environments, where sustained attention and structure are required, this exhaustion becomes more evident. Those with ADHD often end up feeling exhausted after work, more so than their colleagues, because of the additional mental effort expended throughout the day. This can lead to a hard-to-overcome state of chronic fatigue.

Chronic exhaustion is a common issue for many with ADHD. This ongoing tiredness can make daily life and routine tasks seem daunting and overwhelming. This is particularly true for people with inattentive ADHD, who face a continuous struggle with staying attentive and organized, often getting easily distracted and lost in daydreams. Managing this persistent fatigue is crucial for individuals with ADHD, requiring strategies tailored to their unique challenges and needs.

Types of ADHD Fatigue

ADHD and fatigue can manifest in several ways, often intertwining with other symptoms of the disorder:

  • Physical fatigue. This is the most recognizable form, where the individual feels physically drained and lacks energy.
  • Cognitive fatigue. Characterized by brain fog, difficulty in concentrating, and forgetfulness.
  • Emotional fatigue. People with ADHD might experience heightened emotional responses, leading to emotional exhaustion [2*] .
  • Sensory fatigue. Overstimulation from the environment can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed and tired.

What Can Cause ADHD Fatigue?

Below are some of the reasons why you may be feeling tired if you have ADHD. 

Improper Medication Dosage

Medications, particularly stimulants, are a cornerstone of ADHD treatment. However, a wrong dosage – either too high or too low – can lead to overwhelming anxiety and increase the severity of side effects. It is essential to work closely with healthcare providers to find the correct dosage that manages ADHD symptoms and remains safe.

Sleep Issues

Individuals with ADHD often experience disrupted sleep cycles. This disruption can include difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, or waking up frequently during the night. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, are also common in those with ADHD. Poor sleep quality directly leads to increased daytime sleepiness and reduced cognitive function.

Stress

Managing the daily symptoms of ADHD can be inherently stressful. The effort required to maintain focus, organization, and control impulsive behaviors can be mentally exhausting. Chronic stress not only depletes energy levels but can also lead to burnout and depression, further exacerbating feelings of fatigue.

Hyperactivity and Hyperfocus

Hyperactivity in ADHD can be physically draining. The constant need to move and the difficulty in staying still consume a significant amount of energy. Conversely, hyperfocus can lead to mental exhaustion. During hyperfocus, individuals may become so engrossed in a task that they ignore physical needs like eating or sleeping, resulting in fatigue.

Boredom

For individuals with ADHD, engagement in tasks that lack novelty or stimulation can lead to a state of under-stimulation or boredom, which is mentally taxing. This mental drain can manifest as fatigue, as the brain struggles to remain active and alert in less stimulating environments. 

Causes of exhaustion in people with ADHD

Dopamine Issues

ADHD is often linked to irregularities in dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and energy regulation. Untreated ADHD may result in lower dopamine levels which can lead to feelings of fatigue and lack of motivation, making daily tasks and activities more tiring and less rewarding.

Feeling Overwhelmed

The challenges of managing ADHD symptoms, along with everyday life demands, can be overwhelming. This sense of being constantly overwhelmed can lead to emotional exhaustion, which is just as debilitating as physical fatigue.

Sensory Overload

Many individuals with ADHD have a heightened sensitivity to their environment. Overstimulation from noise, light, or crowded spaces can quickly lead to sensory overload, causing significant mental fatigue and the need for a period of recovery.

Burnout

Continuous effort to cope with ADHD symptoms without adequate support or coping mechanisms can lead to burnout. This state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion is caused by prolonged stress and can significantly impact energy levels and motivation.

Brain Fog

Brain fog or cognitive dysfunction in ADHD can manifest as confusion, forgetfulness, and a lack of mental clarity. This symptom can be both a cause and a consequence of fatigue. It can make simple cognitive tasks feel overwhelming and exhausting, further contributing to the cycle of fatigue.

Co-existing Conditions

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a common comorbidity with ADHD. The constant state of worry and heightened stress responses not only mentally drain individuals but also affect physical health. Anxiety can lead to muscle tension, headaches, and feeling sleepy, all of which contribute to increased fatigue. Managing anxiety through therapy and lifestyle changes is essential for reducing its impact on fatigue.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Some individuals with ADHD may also have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a complex disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that does not improve with rest. The overlap of symptoms between ADHD and chronic fatigue syndrome [3*] can complicate diagnosis and treatment, making fatigue more challenging to manage.

See a healthcare provider online to go through a detailed mental health assessment.

9 Strategies to Address ADHD-related Tiredness

Managing and mitigating the fatigue associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder involves a multifaceted approach that addresses both lifestyle and medical aspects. Here are some strategies:

  1. Stay hydrated. Adequate hydration is crucial for overall health, so even mild dehydration can lead to low energy levels, tiredness, and cognitive difficulties. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps maintain optimal brain function.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. A diet rich in nutrients supports brain health and can help manage ADHD symptoms. Foods high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, and rich in vitamins and minerals provide the energy and nutrients necessary for cognitive function.
  3. Do regular exercise. Frequent physical activity is a powerful tool for managing fatigue associated with ADHD in adults. Exercise releases endorphins, which improve mood and energy levels. Additionally, physical activity helps regulate sleep patterns, which can be particularly beneficial for people with ADHD who struggle with sleep issues.
  4. Maintain a regular sleep routine. Consistent sleep patterns are essential for people with ADHD. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate the body’s internal clock, leading to better sleep quality. Creating a relaxing sleep routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath, can signal to the body that it’s time to wind down.
  5. Meditate daily. Mindfulness meditation is beneficial for ADHD. It helps in reducing stress, improving concentration, and enhancing overall well-being. Regular practice of meditation can also improve sleep quality, thereby reducing fatigue.
  6. Learn stress management techniques. Stress exacerbates ADHD symptoms and fatigue. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation can be effective in managing stress.
  7. Take regular breaks. For individuals with ADHD, taking short, frequent breaks during tasks can help maintain energy levels and prevent burnout. This practice is crucial when engaging in activities that require high levels of concentration or are less stimulating.
  8. Limit sugar and caffeine intake. Consuming high amounts of sugar and caffeine, especially later in the day, can disrupt sleep patterns. Reducing intake can help stabilize energy levels throughout the day and promote better sleep at night.
  9. Seek professional help. Consult with healthcare professionals to receive personalized advice and treatment options. Some commonly suggested options include:
    • Psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of psychotherapy can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms and associated stress and anxiety, which in turn can help get over fatigue.
    • ADHD medication. For some individuals, medication may be necessary to manage ADHD symptoms effectively. Stimulant and non-stimulant medications can help improve focus, reduce impulsivity, and regulate other symptoms that contribute to fatigue.

Incorporating these strategies into daily life can significantly impact ADHD management and reduce related fatigue. However, it is essential to remember that each individual’s experience with ADHD can have unique features, and what works for one person may not work for another. Continuous experimentation and adjustment, preferably in consultation with healthcare professionals, can lead to the most effective management of symptoms and overcoming fatigue.

How to get over fatigue

Bottom Line

An ongoing battle with fatigue can significantly impact various aspects of life for those with ADHD, including work performance, social interactions, and overall well-being. The experience of having no energy and feeling drained is not just an occasional inconvenience; it is a frequent reality that can affect motivation, productivity, and personal relationships.

The struggle with chronic exhaustion in ADHD, especially in the inattentive subtype, often goes unnoticed by others. People with inattentive ADHD may not exhibit the more visible hyperactive symptoms but are inwardly grappling with maintaining focus and processing information efficiently. This invisible effort can amplify feelings of fatigue, making tasks that seem simple to others disproportionately tiring for those with ADHD.

Individuals with ADHD and those around them should recognize the extent of this fatigue and its impact. Understanding that this tiredness is a part of the ADHD experience can lead to more effective coping mechanisms. These include the incorporation of structured routines, regular breaks, and strategies to manage inattention and disorganization. Support from family, friends, and mental health professionals can also play a significant role in managing these symptoms, helping those with ADHD navigate their lives with more energy and less fatigue.

Overall, the key to managing ADHD-related tiredness lies in a holistic approach that combines lifestyle changes, therapeutic interventions, and, when necessary, medication. Healthcare professionals at MEDvidi can develop a comprehensive treatment plan that can lead to improvements in both ADHD symptoms and the overall quality of life.

Take a step today to receive expert advice on managing ADHD.

FAQ

Not all adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are frequently tired, but fatigue is a common symptom. ADHD can affect sleep patterns, response to stress, and overall management of energy levels, potentially leading to tiredness. However, the experience of ADHD varies greatly among individuals, and not everyone with ADHD will experience significant fatigue.
Fatigue associated with ADHD often feels like a persistent sense of mental and physical exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest. It can include feelings of being overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and a general lack of energy. As a result, it can make everyday tasks seem more challenging and exhausting.
People with ADHD do not necessarily need to sleep more than others, but they more often require consistent, quality sleep. Many individuals with ADHD struggle with sleep issues like sleep deprivation, difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, or waking up frequently. All of that can impact their overall ability to rest, recharge, and manage symptoms effectively.
Yes, an ADHD brain can get tired more easily due to the constant mental effort required to manage symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, as well as challenges like maintaining focus and processing sensory information. This can lead to quicker mental fatigue compared to those without ADHD.
To boost energy, it’s essential for people with ADHD to maintain a balanced diet, ensure regular and quality sleep, engage in consistent physical exercise, and stay hydrated. It’s also important to find stress-management techniques that are effective for you and take regular breaks during tasks to avoid mental exhaustion. Additionally, following a structured daily routine can help in managing energy levels more effectively.

Sources

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3 sources
  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27918087/
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  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29115168/
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  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23391682/
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
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