The Most Common Side Effects of ADHD Medication

ADHD medication is an effective way to improve the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, those who take medications may experience undesirable side effects. For some people, these side effects can be short-term—like headaches or stomach pains. For others, they can last all day  and disrupt  functioning at school, work, or even socially. Changes in the dosage or type of medication may be required. 

This blog breaks down the common side effects of ADHD medications. We also explore tips on how to counteract those effects with simple but powerful lifestyle changes.

Man about to take ADHD medication with water

How ADHD medication impacts sleep

One of the biggest side effects of ADHD medication is difficulty sleeping. 

Typically, these medications are stimulants. This means they can have components that might negatively affect an individual’s quality of sleep. Like coffee, chocolate, and soda, stimulants can make individuals feel more awake and make sleeping harder. This can then turn into a vicious cycle. People with ADHD are frustrated because they can’t sleep, and being tired only makes them more frustrated.

Man and woman on couch, tired and frustrated

Similarly, if someone is on medication, they might notice themselves waking up too early in the morning. This may be the result of the medication still active in their system.

If  taking a short-acting formula, it may mean that their second or third dose is taken too late in the day, and hasn’t worn off by bedtime. Adjusting the timing of the dosing or changing formulation to a shorter acting option may be the way to address this. 

Other ways ADHD is linked to sleep trouble

Sleep disorders can co-occur with ADHD or may result from stimulant treatment itself. 

ADHD in and of itself can also cause  difficulty in keeping a schedule. Often, individuals find it challenging to focus on their responsibilities, tune out distractions and interruptions, and go to bed. Alternatively, those with ADHD may impulsively jump from one activity to another - only to find themselves not managing their time effectively and sleeping late into the night.

Mom trying to work while daughter and son play

Side effects of ADHD medications

Beyond sleeping problems, ADHD medication can lead to a range of side effects. These include: 

  • Appetite changes: Sometimes, stimulants can take away an individual’s appetite. This is because they also act on the part of the brain that controls hunger cues.
  • Headache and nausea: These side effects are common but often tend to go away within a few weeks of starting. People may be able to minimize the severity by taking the medication with food. 
  • Mood changes: Stimulants can cause irritability or sadness. For others, it can manifest as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and racing thoughts. It can be helpful to change the dosage of your ADHD medication in these instances. 
  • In those cases with pre-existing anxiety, stimulants may potentially worsen symptoms. Leave it up to your mental health professional to determine next steps.
  • Tics: These are sudden, involuntary muscular contractions that usually appear shortly after starting a particular medication. Often, tics involve the eyes, face, mouth, neck, or shoulders. If the throat is affected, the tic might cause coughing, humming, or grunting. 

How to counteract the side effects of ADHD medications

Medication is often used along with behavioral therapies to help reduce symptoms of ADHD. With these two approaches combined, individuals can get a better hold of their mental health and boost their wellness. But what can someone do if they experience any side effects?

The first thing they can do to reduce the side effects of their ADHD medication is to look for and note down any patterns. For instance, more often than not, are they having a hard time sleeping? Most days, does their appetite seem to be gone? They should get detailed and even record the time of day they’re experiencing these things.

Woman at desk taking notes in journal

Understanding these patterns will help them better communicate with their mental health professional. They may want to adjust the medication in terms of dosage and timing.

Other things they can try at home to reduce the side effects of ADHD medications include:

  • Avoiding naps to get their body on a more regular sleep schedule (which we understand can be very challenging!).
  • Avoiding or minimizing caffeine four hours before sleep.
  • Eating complete meals and healthy snacks for sufficient nutrition throughout the day.
  • Having a calming bedtime routine (e.g., dimming the lights, playing soothing music, drinking tea).
  • Improving the timing of medication (stimulants may need to be taken earlier in the day).
  • Removing screens (TV, smartphones, tablets) and other electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Taking medication with food.

How Cerebral helps people struggling with ADHD

Cerebral provides medication management and evidence-based behavioral treatment to ensure clients are able to manage the side effects of their ADHD medication. Currently, Cerebral offers non-stimulant treatment options for ADHD.  At this time, our providers do not offer stimulant medications for ADHD.Our account coordinators, care counselors, prescribers, and talk therapists directly communicate and work together to offer the best care possible. If clients have issues or questions, our care team helps ensure they’re on track with their prescribed medications. 

The best part of all? Cerebral’s care is 100% online. Members can get reliable, affordable, and customizable ADHD care. Wherever and whenever they need it, they can lean into Cerebral while moving along their mental health journey. 

Take our free emotional assessment today so we can get to know you better, and let’s take the next step together. 

Reviewed by: Dr. Aneel Ursani, MD

Share share icon

Expert Tips

See all blog posts
  • If you are in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
    Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line:
    Text Home to 741-741
Google Play ButtonApp Store Button

© 2022 Cerebral Inc. All rights reserved.