What makes ADHD symptoms worse?

There are multiple factors that can make ADHD symptoms worse. A lack of exercise, poor diet, sleep deprivation,[i] and even hormonal shifts[ii] are things that make ADHD worse. Knowing what could be preventing you from reducing your ADHD symptoms (or making them worse) is key to understanding what steps you can take to improve.

For four decades, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with ADHD and other brain-based conditions. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD and ADHD patients reduce their symptoms and have more successful lives.

If you’re experiencing increased ADHD symptoms, we recommend seeking clinical treatment with brain map-guided neurofeedback, and perhaps, adjunctively neurostimulation. These treatments can help optimize brain functioning to reduce ADHD symptoms.

At the Drake Institute, we have helped patients reduce or overcome their ADHD symptoms. Some of our ADHD patients no longer meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD after completing their treatment program.

Does ADHD get worse with age? 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually appears in childhood. However, ADHD can be a lifelong condition for some individuals, which means that their symptoms don’t typically disappear, though they may change over time. But does ADHD get worse with age?

ADHD neurobiologically doesn’t necessarily worsen with age, but some symptoms can become more problematic over time. Existing coping mechanisms may be insufficient when individuals face greater life demands that accompany adolescence and adulthood. There can be a mismatch between what the individual is required to do, and what they’re able to do with how the brain is wired and functioning neurophysiologically. For example, extra responsibilities, changes in routine, or a transition to the workplace or a higher academic challenge level may require more executive functioning and self-regulation, which the individual may not be neurophysically fully capable of.

Other life changes, such as hormonal shifts, abnormal sleep patterns, and acute or chronic stress, can make self-regulation more challenging.

Why are my ADHD symptoms getting worse?

Managing ADHD symptoms throughout life can be challenging, and it can feel like symptoms are getting worse. There are several reasons why this might be the case, including lifestyle factors, certain habits, increased stressors, and even physiological changes. If you’re wondering, “why is my ADHD getting worse?” here are a few factors that might be contributing:

Lack of exercise

Studies from 2020 have revealed that people with ADHD can experience immediate and long-term benefits with regular exercise[iii]. A workout schedule may help with attention, mood regulation, and motivation while reducing fatigue and depression symptoms.

Poor diet

A poor diet consisting mainly of restaurant and junk food provides excess amounts of fat, salt, and sugar, and not enough fruit and vegetables[iv]. Processed foods with artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives can also make ADHD symptoms in children worse.

Excessive stress

Stress can play a significant role in the worsening of ADHD symptoms, especially in those with primarily inattentive type[v]. Stress can affect how the brain functions in neurotypical individuals, often impairing cognitive abilities. This can present an even greater challenge for those with ADHD, who already experience impairment in these areas. An individual experiencing acute stress may temporarily lose some of their already limited frontal lobe functioning. Extreme versions of this can even lead to ADHD paralysis.

Poor sleep quality

Not getting enough sleep can worsen symptoms related to ADHD.[vi] Some research indicates that a lack of sleep in young adults with ADHD has a significant negative impact on attention functioning.[vii]  Sleep deficits can sometimes be exacerbated by ADHD-related issues, like difficulties keeping a consistent sleep schedule, relying on stimulant medication too late in the day, consuming too much caffeine, particularly late in the day or in the evening, hormonal changes, or anxiety, depression, or mood disorders.[viii]

Hormonal shifts

According to Psych Central, for female patients with ADHD menstrual periods, hormonal changes can sometimes exacerbate ADHD symptoms like short-term memory challenges.[ix] Reducing PMS symptoms may help prevent this cause of worsening ADHD symptoms. 

Unkept home and office spaces

A cluttered space can feel overwhelming to a person with ADHD[x]. Excessive piles of clothing, papers, and other bits of clutter can make everything seem more overwhelming than it really is and make it more difficult to prioritize. Tidying up can help ease worries and encourage peace of mind.

Too much screen time

Excessive screen time has been shown to make ADHD symptoms worse.[xi] It is unclear whether ADHD encourages screen time or screen time fuels ADHD, but screen time before bed can be particularly detrimental to your sleep, which can worsen symptoms.[xii]

Untreated co-occurring mental disorders

Untreated co-occurring mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, is one of the factors that can make ADHD worse. At the Drake Institute, we always treat anxiety, depression, or the mood disorder first, then we address any remaining ADHD symptoms.

Rejection sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity is when a person has an “exaggerated fear of being rejected by those around them.”[xiii] This overwhelming fear of rejection can cause increased sensitivity to any perceived judgments or rejections.[xiv]

How to better improve your ADHD symptoms

The most important step to reducing your ADHD symptoms is to treat the underlying cause of the disorder - brain dysregulation. We recommend seeking clinical treatment with brain map-guided neurofeedback, and sometimes, adjunctively neurostimulation. These treatments can help optimize brain functioning to reduce ADHD symptoms. There are several steps you can take to support your clinical treatment for best results, including:

Get plenty of sleep

As discussed above, getting enough sleep is a healthy step toward improving ADHD symptoms. Sleep allows the brain to rest and repair, consolidate memories, process information, and regulate emotions - all key challenges in ADHD.[xv]

Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet will include the nutrients needed for optimal functioning of the brain throughout the day.

Consider taking supplements

Some research suggests specific nutrients may offer benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, have shown promise in improving focus, attention, and memory.[xvi]  Other studies show a reduction in hyperactivity and impulsivity with zinc supplements.[xvii] It’s always wise to get laboratory blood tests first to identify any biomedical deficiencies that may benefit from nutritional supplementation.

Spend more time in nature

Spending time outdoors in nature has well-documented mental health and cognitive function benefits. Studies have shown that immersion in nature can improve focus and attention, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, common co-occurrences with ADHD.[xviii] Additionally, spending time in nature has been shown to improve cognitive development in children and memory in adults.[xix]

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is an essential tool for managing ADHD effectively. It involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding. This practice can help you build resilience, reduce stress, and keep you motivated.[xx]

Limit screen time

Excessive screen time can exacerbate your ADHD symptoms. Taking regular breaks away from your phone, computer, or TV and avoiding screen time before bed can be very beneficial.

Consider therapy

Psychotherapy with a qualified professional can be helpful in dealing with anxiety and/or depression for individuals with ADHD and can teach coping strategies for dealing with stress-related symptoms.

How the Drake Institute treats ADHD

Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.

Brain Mapping

To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated and linked to symptoms.

To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding, and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.

When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.


During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.

During neurofeedback sessions, the patient sees the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.

We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.


[i] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-what-makes-adhd-worse

[ii] https://psychcentral.com/adhd/my-adhd-is-so-bad-today#5-things-that-make-adhd-worse

[iii] https://psychcentral.com/adhd/my-adhd-is-so-bad-today#5-things-that-make-adhd-worse

[iv] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-what-makes-adhd-worse

[v] https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/feeling-stressed-it-can-make-adhd-symptoms-seem-worse/

[vi] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-what-makes-adhd-worse

[vii] https://www.additudemag.com/sleep-deprivation-and-adhd/#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20research%20shows%20that,the%20Journal%20of%20Attention%20Disorders.

[viii] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adult-adhd-and-sleep-problems

[ix] https://psychcentral.com/adhd/my-adhd-is-so-bad-today#5-things-that-make-adhd-worse

[x] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-what-makes-adhd-worse

[xi] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/childhood-adhd-screen-time

[xii] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-what-makes-adhd-worse

[xiii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/basics/rejection-sensitivity

[xiv] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/rejection-sensitive-dysphoria

[xv] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/adhd-and-sleep

[xvi] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9641984/#:~:text=Ingestion%20of%20omega%2D3%20fatty,from%20an%20omega%2D3%20supplement.

[xvii] https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/vitamins-supplements-adhd

[xviii] https://magazine.hms.harvard.edu/articles/walk-woods-may-boost-mental-health

[xix] https://www.psycom.net/adhd/when-adhd-medications-dont-work

[xx] https://www.additudemag.com/self-compassion-adhd-adults/#:~:text=We%20learn%20to%20value%20self,the%20effects%20of%20ADHD%2C%20too.

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dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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