Scientists do not fully understand the link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. That said, there are some hypotheses as to why this link may exist, such as corresponding brain activity and similar irregularities in neurotransmitters.

ADHD is a commonly diagnosed disorder in childhood. It endures through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and high support needs. Doctors have reported sleep problems in 25–50% of people with ADHD in clinical practice, and people with the disorder often also have comorbid sleep disorders, such as insomnia and narcolepsy.

When people have narcolepsy, they frequently fall asleep suddenly and without warning at unexpected times. The sleep disorder can also cause sudden loss of muscle control, called cataplexy, and leaves people feeling excessively tired during the day.

Read on for more information about having both ADHD and narcolepsy, the link between the two, and how to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.

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It is possible for a person to have both ADHD and narcolepsy. ADHD and narcolepsy are closely linked, with around 33% of people with narcolepsy experiencing symptoms of ADHD.

Researchers do not fully understand the link between ADHD and narcolepsy, but there are several hypotheses about their association. These include:

Excessive daytime sleepiness

Experts believe that excessive daytime sleepiness in people with narcolepsy could cause inattention, impulse control problems, and poor executive function. These symptoms mimic those of ADHD and respond well to stimulant medication, which doctors often prescribe for both narcolepsy and ADHD.

Corresponding brain activity

A 2020 study found that ADHD symptoms and sleep disturbances may share certain brain activity in common. This includes structural changes in the ventral attention system, one of two sensory orienting systems in the brain.

It also includes structural changes to the frontostriatal circuits, which are particular neural pathways in the brain. It may be that a person with these changes in the brain is more likely to experience ADHD, narcolepsy, or both.

Irregular neurotransmitters

A person with ADHD may have irregular dopamine and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters that help people focus and pay attention. Dysregulation of noradrenaline can also lead to changes in REM sleep, like the changes people with narcolepsy experience. Dysregulated neurotransmitters could play a role in ADHD and narcolepsy by affecting a person’s ability to focus and disrupting REM sleep.


Research indicates that there may also be a genetic link between the two conditions. One study found a significant association between the genetic risk of narcolepsy and ADHD traits in data taken from the general population. Inattention and hyperactivity, symptoms of ADHD, were specifically associated with genetic traits of narcolepsy.

Treatments for narcolepsy and ADHD may overlap, as some of the medications a doctor may prescribe for each condition would affect the other.

Shared treatments

Treatments that are common to both conditions include:


Doctors most commonly use this medication to treat narcolepsy but may also use it as an off-label medication to treat ADHD symptoms. Modafinil may effectively treat both narcolepsy and ADHD.


This is a stimulant that doctors often use to treat ADHD and may prescribe off-label as a treatment for narcolepsy. It is effective at increasing wakefulness, which can help alleviate excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy.

ADHD treatment

Psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, training, and medications can all benefit a person with ADHD, especially in combination. There are four types of FDA-approved medication to treat ADHD:

Some natural remedies may also be effective in treating ADHD. Learn about them here.

Narcolepsy treatment

Treatments for narcolepsy include:

A doctor may also prescribe medications for narcolepsy, such as:

The symptoms of ADHD may include:

  • limited attention to detail
  • difficulties with organization and prioritization
  • a limited attention span and difficulty focusing
  • continually starting new tasks before finishing prior tasks
  • regularly misplacing things
  • restlessness
  • difficulty staying quiet
  • difficulty dealing with stress
  • forgetfulness
  • mood swings and irritability
  • interrupting others consistently and blurting out responses
  • risk-taking behavior
  • extreme impatience

ADHD can be slightly different in females. Learn about the differences here.

As well as some challenges, there are also several benefits to having ADHD. Learn more about them here.

ADHD often occurs with other disorders, which may include:

A person can have both narcolepsy and ADHD, and the two are closely linked. Experts are not sure of the exact nature of the link but hypothesize that it could be genetic or related to brain activity and disruptions toneurotransmitters.

Doctors may prescribe certain medications to treat both narcolepsy and ADHD, such as modafinil or the stimulant methylphenidate.

People with ADHD may also benefit from other medications and therapy.

People with narcolepsy can benefit from maintaining healthy sleep habits. They made also take other medications, including antidepressants, sodium oxybate, and stimulants like dexamphetamine.