There are many ways to monitor rhythms in human body clocks. We can look at an individual's sleeping patterns, their hormone levels, and even their genes. We've already mentioned that sleeping problems are significantly linked to ADHD, but as we examine these other body clock markers we can see how deep the problem lies.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released at higher intensities in the night (see post on asthma). In ADHD patients whilst they maintain a daily rhythm in cortisol, the peak shifts to later in the day, effecting their sleep at night.
|The rhythm in cortisol occurs later in ADHD patients (C) Baird et al 2011|
Some of the clock genes, which are used to signal time of day information throughout all the cells in the body, were also found to not be functioning at all in the ADHD patients tested .
All this evidence combined shows that it is not just sleep that is a problem with ADHD, but there are underlying issues with a dysfunctional body clock. In fact, the more severe ADHD rating a patient had, the weaker their body clock rhythms were.
Melatonin is a hormone that is released at night, induces sleepiness, and communicates time of day information around the body. Melatonin is produced much later in chronic insomniac ADHD sufferers who stay awake at night.
Luckily, melatonin can be taken as a pill (it is often used to help overcome jet-lag). When taken at the correct dosage and time of day, melatonin can fix broken body clocks and improve sleep patterns.
|Melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, is being used in trials to treat insomnia in ADHD (C)|
A few small trials have reported significant benefits in using melatonin to treat insomnia in ADHD sufferers. In one trial with approx 100 children, after 3 years, 88% recorded improved sleep at night. They were also able to perform better during the day, both mentally and physically .
Daily melatonin intake led to no serious side effects in this trial. However, only 9% could stop the melatonin treatment without reverting back to suffering insomnia, so the treatment needs to be continued long term.
|Parents' responses after a 3 year follow up when using melatonin to treat ADHD (C) Hoebert 2009|
Melatonin is one method to realign a person's internal body clock to the external day, and is showing positive benefits in ADHD sufferers day to day lives. With the amounting evidence of the relationship between ADHD and a broken body clock there will hopefully be trials conducted in adult ADHD patients and more treatments available.
Please note, I am not a medical doctor and cannot advise ADHD patients on melatonin treatment. However I would love to hear from you if you have ADHD and sleep problems. Please write in the comments box below.
Enjoy this blog post? You may want to check out Nocturnal Asthma or Around the Clock Doc.
 Coogan, A N. et al (2012). Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: translating research into practice. Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, 41-51. doi:10.1007/s12402-012-0073-7
 Baird AL, et al (2011) Adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is associated with alterations in circadian rhythms at the behavioural, endocrine and molecular levels. Mol Psychiatr. doi:10.1038/mp.2011.149
 Hoebert M, et al (2009) Long-term follow-up of melatonin treatment in children with ADHD and chronic sleep onset insomnia. J Pineal Res 47(1):1–7. doi:10.1111/j.1600-079X.2009.00681.x