ADD or Sleep Deprivation? How to Tell the Difference

ADD/ADHD and sleep deficit have some remarkably similar symptoms. It takes a professional eye to really see which one is taking its toll on your child. A misdiagnosis could lead to complications and incorrect medication that can have long-term negative effects.

Here are some similarities and differences of the two health issues:

Shared Symptoms

The first and most obvious symptom that these two conditions exhibit is a short attention span. An individual suffering from sleep deprivation or ADD/ADHD will both have difficulty keeping their focus narrowed on an individual task, their mind wandering, and their body desiring movement.

Agitation can also be another factor. An inability to cope with minor annoyances and grumpiness can be signs of ADD and/or sleep deprivation.

While it might seem like a contradiction to the other symptoms, sometimes sleep deprivation can cause ADD/ADHD’s infamous hyperactivity and excitement. It’s like the feeling you experience when staying up a little later than usual after the initial period of sleepiness, your body is compensating with adrenaline to keep you sharp while staying up too late.


While they are similar, the two have some differences that will present themselves over time. The long term health effects of sleep deprivation can be severe, increasing the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Sleep disorders can also cause hallucinations and other severe psychological issues. Additionally, lack of proper sleep can compromise your immune system.

ADD/ADHD’s symptoms, on the other hand, aren’t so dire and are mostly covered by the symptoms of sleep deprivation. One symptom that isn’t quite as common for sleep issues is hyperfocus. Some individuals with ADD/ADHD have a more “tunnel vision” presentation of their disorder. This presents itself as the individual becoming so immersed in a single task that they are disconnected from everything else around them. These activities can range to something that seems healthy such as reading, studying, and other beneficial activities, but this behavior can lead to addictive escapism through video games and other forms of media.


Studies have shown a direct link from lack of sleep to behavioral problems, even as much as 100% of patients exhibiting symptoms similar to ADD/ADHD. Unfortunately, most doctors and pediatricians aren’t equipped to handle sleep disorders, with only about one in five having training in that area. This presents a huge problem, as a misdiagnosis of ADD or ADHD can lead to improper medication that can actually make the symptoms worse as many of the medications are stimulants which can lead to unhealthy sleep in those without the disorders.

Schedule a Sleep Study with Dr. Shukla

If you suspect that your child has ADD or ADHD, even if they have been diagnosed with one of these disorders, it’s imperative that you get a second opinion from a qualified sleep specialist. A sleep study might be necessary as this can detect any underlying sleep conditions which could be causing the ADD/ADHD symptoms. Schedule a sleep study with Dr. Mayank Shukla today to ensure that your child is getting the sleep they need to stay attentive and alert throughout the day.

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