Circadian Effects on Attention and Working Memory in College Students With Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Symptoms

Lily Gabay, Pazia Miller, Nelly Alia-Klein, Monica P. Lewin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective: Individuals with an evening chronotype prefer to sleep later at night, wake up later in the day and perform best later in the day as compared to individuals with morning chronotype. Thus, college students without ADHD symptoms with evening chronotypes show reduced cognitive performance in the morning relative to nighttime (i.e., desynchrony effect). In combination with symptoms presented in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), we predicted that having evening chronotype renders impairment in attention during the morning, when students require optimal performance, amplifying desynchrony. Method: Four hundred college students were surveyed for evening chronotype and symptoms of ADHD. Of those surveyed, 43 students with evening chronotype (19 with ADHD symptoms) performed laboratory attention tasks and were queried about fatigue during morning and evening sessions. Results: Students with ADHD symptoms demonstrated a greater decrement in sustained attentional vigilance when abstaining from stimulants and asked to perform cognitive tests at times misaligned with natural circadian rhythms in arousal compared to their non-ADHD counterparts with the same chronotype. While individuals with ADHD symptoms had slower reaction-times during sustained attention tasks in the morning session compared to those without symptoms, there was no significant group difference in working memory performance, even though both groups made more errors in the morning session compared to the evening session. Conclusion: These findings suggest that evening chronotype students with ADHD symptoms are at a greater disadvantage when having to perform sustained attention tasks at times that are not aligned to their circadian rhythm compared to their neuro-typical peers. The implications of this finding may be useful for the provision of disability accommodations to college age students with ADHD when they are expected to perform tasks requiring sustained attention at times misaligned with their circadian rhythms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number851502
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 16 May 2022


  • ADHD
  • attention
  • chronotype
  • synchrony effect
  • working memory


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