The key role of daytime sleepiness in cognitive functioning of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Bartosz Helfer, Natali Bozhilova, Ruth Cooper, Joanna I. Douzenis, Stefanos Maltezos, Philip Asherson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
137 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND.: Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently suffer from sleep problems and report high levels of daytime sleepiness compared to neurotypical controls, which has detrimental effect on quality of life. METHODS.: We evaluated daytime sleepiness in adults with ADHD compared to neurotypical controls using an observer-rated sleepiness protocol during the Sustained Attention Response Task as well as electroencephalogram (EEG) slowing, a quantitative electroencephalographic measure collected during a short period of wakeful rest. RESULTS.: We found that adults with ADHD were significantly sleepier than neurotypical controls during the cognitive task and that this on-task sleepiness contributed to cognitive performance deficits usually attributed to symptoms of ADHD. EEG slowing predicted severity of ADHD symptoms and diagnostic status, and was also related to daytime sleepiness. Frontal EEG slowing as well as increased frontal delta were especially prominent in adults with ADHD. We have validated and adapted an objective observer-rated measure for assessing on-task sleepiness that will contribute to future sleep research in psychology and psychiatry. CONCLUSIONS.: These findings indicate that the cognitive performance deficits routinely attributed to ADHD and often conceptualized as cognitive endophenotypes of ADHD are largely due to on-task sleepiness and not exclusively due to ADHD symptom severity. Daytime sleepiness plays a major role in cognitive functioning of adults with ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e31
JournalEuropean psychiatry : the journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists
Issue number1
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2020


  • adults
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • cognition
  • EEG slowing
  • observer-rated sleepiness
  • sleepiness


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