When it comes to sleep and ADHD, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a greater occurrence of sleep problems in adults with ADHD than the general population.
We also know that lack of sleep can make your ADHD symptoms (challenges with focus and attention) worse. So, if you have sleep issues, it is important that you address them as part of a holistic treatment plan for your ADHD.
Whatever your challenges with sleep they likely fall into one of four areas.
Like many with ADHD, you may be an avowed night owl; you get a second wind late at night. The official medical term is Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome.
You may find yourself unable to shut of your mind, even though you really want to go to sleep. Alternatively, you may really enjoy this late night time to yourself, and may even be strongly resistant to changing this habit because you feel like this is the only time you have to yourself.
In either case, lack of sleep may be damaging your health and impairing your ability to function to such an extent that you are ready to change. There are strategies to help you do this.
Some fall in the category of “don’t do this.”
- Stop using electronics and, yes, even TV an hour before bed, as they can arouse you just when you want to slow down.
- Don’t exercise an hour before bed. It can also awaken you.
- Resist becoming engaged in any activity whether for work or pleasure that can stimulate your brain, and make going to sleep harder.
- Avoid eating less than an hour before going to sleep, as the digestive process can interfere with sleep.
- Refrain from ingesting any type of caffeine too late in the day.
- Likewise, if you are taking stimulant medication, the timing of when you take it is important. Taking it too late in the day can also interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
Is there anything from the above list that may be preventing your from going to sleep? As part of your sleep routine look at what you can do to make changes here, first.
Then integrate other habits to promote sleep:
- Set a regular bedtime for 7-8 hours before you need to get up.
- Create a bedtime routine that helps you slow down an hour before you want to be asleep.
- Read or listen to books on tape before bed.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Drink warm milk or tea.
- Take a warm bath.
- Exercise during the day
- Have a snack before bed, if you tend to get up in the middle of the night because you are hungry.
- Get up at the same time each day, so you are tired enough to go to sleep. Otherwise the “night owl cycle” will continue.
If creating better sleep habits on your own does not work, it is time to talk to your doctor.
- If you are taking a stimulant medication, discuss the possibility of taking a dose before bed; some find it can help to fall asleep, as it “turns off your brain.”
- You may also talk to your doctor about non-prescription or prescription medication that helps to induce sleep.
Challenges waking up are also common for many adults with ADHD.
- Going to sleep (and falling asleep) at a reasonable hour is the first step, as not getting enough sleep is one obvious culprit to being able to get up on time.
- If you tend to shut off the alarm and go back to sleep, try putting the alarm across the room or using an alarm, like the clocky. You may even try a wake up call service.
- If you take a stimulant medication, set your alarm for 45 minutes before you need to get up and take your medication. Then set a second alarm for when you need to get up; by the time you need to get up you will be more fully alert.
While you may be in bed for “enough hours” during the night, you may not sleep well during that time. You toss and turn, even waking up periodically during the night. And you wake up as tired as when you went to bed.
- If the cause is that you are not able to “turn off your mind,” creating better sleep habits to promote sleep is the first step.
- It is also possible that, like the general population, you may suffer from sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or other syndrome that interferes with your sleep.
If you are unable to pinpoint the cause of your restless sleep and treat it on your own, consider talking to your doctor about having a sleep study to determine the cause.
Staying Awake During the Day
An obvious reason for daytime sleepiness is that you are not getting enough sleep.
As an adult with ADHD there is also the possibility that you are “tired” because you are not actively engaged in what you are doing, and your nervous system disengages because you need to do something more interesting.
If you suspect that boredom may be at the root of your daytime sleepiness, try waking up your brain.
- Switch to a different activity that is more interesting.
- Work out in the middle of the day, if possible.
- Go for a walk outside.
- Make sure you are taking your stimulant medication when you need it.
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line
Obviously, getting sufficient sleep is an important factor in being healthy and functioning well in your daily life. Not so obvious, perhaps, is that it is also a critical part of treating your ADHD, as lack of sleep exacerbates your ADHD symptoms.
You may need to experiment for a while before you figure out what will help you get a good night’s sleep.
What steps do you want to take to address your challenges with sleep? If you have already tried addressing your sleep challenges on your own, what professionals can you turn to for help?