Treatment for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually involves a combination of behavior therapy and medication. However, meditation and mindfulness are emerging as possible beneficial therapies.

According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, 11% of school-aged children have ADHD. The organization also states that more than three-quarters of these individuals still experience ADHD symptoms when they reach adulthood.

While there are several medications available for this condition, some people may wish to try alternatives, such as practicing mindfulness, which can include meditation.

Keep reading to learn more about mindfulness and meditation with ADHD, including its benefits, tips, and strategies.

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ADHD is a common disorder of brain development, and people usually receive a diagnosis during childhood. However, some do not receive a diagnosis until they reach adulthood.

Characteristics of ADHD may include difficulty with:

  • paying attention
  • controlling impulsive behaviors
  • controlling themselves from being overly active

While most children have trouble paying attention and behaving at times, people with ADHD tend to have more of these difficulties. This can lead to problems at home, school, socially, and eventually at work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of ADHD can include:

  • daydreaming a lot
  • forgetting or losing things a lot
  • squirming or fidgeting
  • excessive talking
  • making mistakes
  • taking unnecessary risks
  • difficulty resisting temptation
  • difficulty taking turns
  • difficulty getting along with others

Some people with the condition may have problems paying attention, which refers to attention deficit. And others may tend to be impulsive and overly active, which refers to hyperactivity. Others still have an equal balance of these symptoms.

While ADHD comes with some challenges, there are also some potential benefits. Learn about them.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two different types of ADHD medication: stimulants and nonstimulants. Researchers think stimulants work by increasing brain levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in motivation, attention, and movement. The FDA also authorizes doctors to prescribe nonstimulants for children with ADHD who do not tolerate stimulants well.

However, some people seek alternative means of managing their ADHD symptoms.

Mindfulness and meditation tend to go together well. People could think of meditation as the cause or a practice and mindfulness as the effect or result. Essentially, meditation is one element that can lead to better mindfulness.

People have performed meditation and mindfulness for thousands of years to help them in various ways, including improving focus and self-control, managing stress, and supporting brain health. However, studies present mixed results regarding the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for managing ADHD.

One 2018 study found that even short meditations can improve attention in people new to the practice. Another studyfrom 2019 concluded that 8 weeks of short, daily meditation was enough to reduce negative mood and anxiety and boost attention and memory.

However, the authors of a 2018 systematic review could not draw definite conclusions about the usefulness of meditation-based interventions, specifically for children with ADHD. This was because of the low quality of the study designs. Therefore, better quality studies are necessary to assess meditation effects on ADHD symptoms.

Authors of another 2018 study came to a similar conclusion due to a lack of randomized, controlled clinical trials, differences in study designs, and potential for bias.

Learn more about some different types of meditation.

A 2017 pilot study tested the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for problems controlling behavior and emotional dysregulation symptoms in adults with ADHD. The results were positive, but the study’s authors said larger trials were necessary to confirm the benefits.

Additionally, a 2020 study showed that mindfulness-oriented meditation (MOM) training has an effect on the brain and behavior. The authors suggested that it could be a useful tool for relieving ADHD symptoms. In this trial, 25 children aged 7–11 years received three MOM sessions per week for 8 weeks, gradually increasing in duration from 6 minutes to 30 minutes.

Additionally, a 2019 systematic review analyzed the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on the brains and behavior of adults with ADHD. The researchers found that all of the included 13 studies reported ADHD symptom improvement. They also noted that mindfulness meditation training can support the self-control of behavior and regulation of emotions.

For people with ADHD, meditation and mindfulness may be more challenging than for those without the condition. However, the calming effect on the body and brain may be extremely beneficial.

Five tips for successful ADHD meditation include:

  1. Routine: A person should make the time of day work well for their schedule and preferences. Then, they should try to stick to it. Making meditation part of a daily routine makes it easier to commit to regular practice.
  2. Comfort: People can try a few different sitting positions before settling on one that makes them feel comfortable. What a person wears can have a large effect on comfort, so they can try to keep their clothing comfortable and loose.
  3. Peace: Individuals should keep technology out of reach and earshot and preferably out of the room. It is also worth considering whether complete silence or white noise works best to help a person remain focused. People can try both before deciding.
  4. Breath: Steady, slow, and deep breathing helps calm the nervous system. It is also a suitable focal point for a person’s attention during any meditation or mindfulness practice.
  5. Kindness: People should not be hard on themselves if their minds wander during meditation. Piling up frustration will counteract the benefits.

Several apps may help with meditation. Learn about them.

When treating ADHD symptoms, meditation and mindfulness join several other lifestyle changes without medication, not least what we put in our bodies.

Healthy diet

Findings from a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that diets high in refined sugar and saturated fat can increase the risk of ADHD or hyperactivity. In contrast, nutritious diets, which include lots of fruits and vegetables, may have a protective effect.

Learn more about the best diet for ADHD.

Nutrient deficiencies

In a 2017 review of current evidence, researchers found some indications that polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements could help reduce ADHD medication dosage. However, researchers claim this is unconfirmed. In the case of zinc, iron, and magnesium, they found that supplementation could potentially reduce ADHD symptoms in children if they were deficient or at high risk of deficiency. Again, the research is inconclusive regarding these benefits.

Medicinal cannabis

The authors of a 2017 study found preliminary evidence supporting the use of cannabis for ADHD. They suggested that adults with the condition could experience symptom reduction without the cognitive impairments often observable in cannabis use. However, they included a caveat that their results were inconclusive. Therefore, more research is necessary.

Learn more about ADHD and cannabis.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Therapy may also help alleviate ADHD symptoms. In a 2018 study, 88 college students with ADHD received active treatment and maintenance phases of cognitive behavioral therapy across two back-to-back semesters. Immediately after treatment, the students showed statistically significant reductions in ADHD symptoms, improvements in the self-control of their behavior, and reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression. These beneficial effects lasted for at least 5 months.

Learn more about CBT and how it works.

ADHD is a common brain development disorder that often starts in childhood and may continue into adulthood.

While current evidence makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions, there is some scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can help alleviate symptoms.

Evidence is emerging for other nonpharmaceutical ways to manage ADHD, including through diet and nutrient supplementation, CBT, and potentially medicinal cannabis. However, more research is necessary to confirm these findings.