Neurofeedback in ADHD and insomnia: vigilance stabilization through sleep spindles and circadian networks

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Jul:44:183-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.10.006. Epub 2012 Oct 23.


In this review article an overview of the history and current status of neurofeedback for the treatment of ADHD and insomnia is provided. Recent insights suggest a central role of circadian phase delay, resulting in sleep onset insomnia (SOI) in a sub-group of ADHD patients. Chronobiological treatments, such as melatonin and early morning bright light, affect the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This nucleus has been shown to project to the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC) thereby explaining the vigilance stabilizing effects of such treatments in ADHD. It is hypothesized that both Sensori-Motor Rhythm (SMR) and Slow-Cortical Potential (SCP) neurofeedback impact on the sleep spindle circuitry resulting in increased sleep spindle density, normalization of SOI and thereby affect the noradrenergic LC, resulting in vigilance stabilization. After SOI is normalized, improvements on ADHD symptoms will occur with a delayed onset of effect. Therefore, clinical trials investigating new treatments in ADHD should include assessments at follow-up as their primary endpoint rather than assessments at outtake. Furthermore, an implication requiring further study is that neurofeedback could be stopped when SOI is normalized, which might result in fewer sessions.

Keywords: ADHD; Circadian phase delay; Epilepsy; Idiopathic insomnia; Insomnia; Neurofeedback; Sigma; Sleep onset insomnia; Sleep spindles.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / pathology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / rehabilitation*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Neurofeedback / methods*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / pathology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / rehabilitation*