Tim Ferris, Michael Phelps, ADHD, & Sleep Apnea

I wrote in my last post about how creativity can be linked to ADHD, mainly due to inefficient sleep from breathing problems at night. ADHD can also be linked to tremendous achievements in sports or physical activities. People who don’t sleep efficiently will take measures during the day to compensate for their inability to stay focused or stay awake. Some people drink lots of coffee. Others exercise like crazy. Some even become olympic swimming or ballroom dancing champions.

I’ve written before about how Michael Phelps, the olympic swimming champion, has a major malocclusion, and seems to be a mouth breather. It’s well documented in the papers that he had ADHD as a child. Swimming is a great way to not only stay active, but also has a calming, relaxing property that’s almost like doing deep-breathing meditation exercises. Swimming forces you to take slow, rhythmic breaths. His mother has known hypertension, and being clearly overweight, it’s likely that she has obstructive sleep apnea. Many long distance runners feel alive only when they’re running. It’s shocking how often people who are addicted to endurance sports can’t or prefer not to sleep on their backs.

Even with Tim Ferris, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Work-Week, in his new book, The 4-Hour Body, he describes how he and his entire family have major insomnia. He even recommends sleeping on your stomach, which is what he most likely prefers due to his jaw anatomy. He’s excelled in almost every physical activity, from running to swimming, to body-buiding, and even ballroom dancing. I do enjoy reading his books, but I have to admit that his writing style is definitely scattered, in the stereotypical style that’s typical for ADHD.

Problems can arise if you get injured or are forced to sleep on your back for some reason (an injury or surgery). Poor sleep quality can promote rapid weight gain, and then it’s really difficult to take off, especially since you’re not sleeping well, and you’re not able to exercise at your normal levels. Time and time again, people with these issues tell me that they get really down and depressed even if they miss a few workouts.

I know many of you reading this have this condition. Do you agree or disagree?


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3 thoughts on “Tim Ferris, Michael Phelps, ADHD, & Sleep Apnea

  1. I have obstructive sleep apnea and use CPAP, but it is far from a perfect treatment. I also exercise strenuously on a regular basis. This Saturday it had been several days since I had exercised regularly. I did some light work around the house and in the late afternoon I was exhausted and depressed.

    Around 4:30 p.m. I forced myself to drive 30 minutes to one of our local monadnocks that I climb regularly. The first half-mile on the flat trail to the base I still felt horrible and was questioning why I had not stayed at home on the sofa and watched TV.

    I reached the base, pushed start on my wrist chronograph, and started the steep rocky accent to the top. Pushing myself hard I noticed at the 14-minute mark my mood had totally lifted and my pace picked up.

    After completing the climb and descent to the car, I drove home alert and feeling well, then spent a pleasant evening with my wife watching the NCAAs and having to remind myself at midnight that I needed to go to bed. This is a guy who felt at 4:00 p.m. he needed to go to bed for the night.

    My friends say the strenuous exercise pumps endorphins into your system that causes this very positive effect. The deep rhythmic breathing is also likely to be a positive factor.

  2. I have sleep apnea and night time seizures. I also have daytime sleepiness to the point where I cannot perform normal tasks like data entry, or reading without falling asleep and having a seizure. It is so bad in fact, that if a seizure is coming on my aura is daytime sleepiness. I get a uncontrollable urge to take a nap, I know that I have to seize. Even if I take 60mg of amphetamine or methelphenidate (sp) it does nothing to mitigate the sleepy feeling. If I go for a long run (6+miles) I can put off the feeling of sleepiness but almost instantly have to sleep once I stop being active. Once I give into the sleepy feeling and close my eyes for ten minutes I awake felling all the muscles in my body sore and more tired than before the “nap” however I no longer feel the uncontrollable urge to sleep. These strange fits or whatever they are are usually brought on by emotional stress, changes in schedule that are unexpected, and lack of normal sleep pattern. They normally only happen when I am in a comfortable and/or familiar environment. Occasionally, while driving I will need to pull over and “sleep” for ten minutes. Once I awake I feel like I just worked out or chopped wood for a full day but am no longer sleepy. These sleepiness attacks are also sometimes accompanied by a elevated mood and what might be classified as slightly manic thinking, feelings of extreme sociability etc. My Dr.s are kind of stumped as to what the issue is and it has made my personal and professional life extremely challenging. I still manage to have a decent quality of life and exercise regularly. I do not drink alchol or use recreational drugs.

  3. I recently read an article in Sports Illustrated on Michael Phelps which talked about his depression and behavioral problems when he was younger. Swimming provided a way to help balance him out and help him feel more “normal”, which certainly fits with your paradigm. When is the medical community going to wake up and start making these connections?