Category: ADHD - Adult
Introduction: Prevailing cognitive models suggest that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) arises from general weaknesses in executive functioning (EF)—a set of “top-down” cognitive processes used to regulate behavior toward adaptive, long-term goals (Barkley, 1997). As many enter college, external sources of structure and routine are lost, or at least greatly diminished. Due the additional stress on self-regulation placed on college students, this transition is likely to correspond with increased disruption in health behaviors—particularly for those with ADHD (Fleming & McMahon, 2012). This is concerning, as deficient sleep and exercise may amplify the EF deficits that underlie ADHD (Fafrowicz et al., 2010; Neudecker et al., 2015). We sought to explore the relationship between ADHD and sleep and exercise behaviors.
Method: Undergraduate students (ADHD n = 376; Non-ADHD n = 1,472) participated in an online survey from four universities that required participants to report on their ADHD symptomatology—including inattention (IA) and hyperactivity/impulsivity (HI) symptom severity—as well as their sleep and physical exercise behaviors.
Results: As anticipated, the t-test analyses showed significant differences in frequency of exercise and sleep between those with and without ADHD. Individuals with ADHD reported engaging in less exercise in the prior week (M =2.11, SD = 2.00) than their non-ADHD peers (M = 2.44, SD = 2.01; p = .006, g = .16). This pattern held true regarding the frequency of exercise over a 90-day period, with the ADHD group (M = 2.80, SD = 1.99) reporting less exercise than their non-ADHD peers (M = 3.10, SD = 1.95; p = .006, g = .15). Only IA was negatively correlated with exercise over 7-day (r = -.09, p < .001) and 90-day periods (r = -.11, p < .001).
Individuals with ADHD reported getting less sleep on weekdays (M = 786.82, SD = 147.28) than their non-ADHD peers (M = 817.75, SD = 124.42; p < .001, g = .24). Self-reported amounts of weekday sleep were negatively correlated with IA (r = -.13, p < .001) and HI (r = -.13, p < .001). The amount of reported weekend sleep did not significantly vary between the ADHD (M = 862.81, SD = 170.34) and non-ADHD group (M = 867.18, SD = 143.56; p = .62, g = .03). Those in the ADHD group reported significantly more sleep problems (M = 24.28, SD = 6.02) than their non-ADHD peers (M = 21.32, SD = 5.22; t = 9.51, p < .001, g = -.55). Total sleep problems were positively correlated with IA (r = .36, p < .001) and HI (r = .30, p < .001).
Discussion: Both sleep and exercise behaviors were found to be significantly worse among college students with ADHD, relative to their non-ADHD peers. This is concerning since healthy exercise and sleep hygiene is likely associated with amplifying the underlying EF deficits associated with ADHD. Additional implications and future directions will be presented.
Judah Serrano– Graduate Student, University of Wyoming
Patrick LaCount– Graduate Student, University of Wyoming
Cynthia Hartung– Associate Professor, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
Christopher Shelton– Graduate Student, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
Anne Stevens– Graduate Student, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
Will Canu– Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
Daniel Leopold– University of Colorado - Boulder
Erik Willcutt– University of Colorado - Boulder, Colorado