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Exhausting Options: How I Finally Got My ADHD Brain to Sleep

The standard advice for ensuring a good night’s sleep has never worked for my ADHD brain. A good book will keep me up reading all night. Meditation is akin to torture. So, I devised my own shortlist of tricks to use when I’m tired but can’t find any rest.

cute dog and cat sleeping
Cat and dog sleeping together. Kitten and puppy taking nap. Home pets. Animal care. Love and friendship. Domestic animals.

At 10:17 pm, I drowsily sunk under the weight of my anxiety-reducing blanket. My face was cleansed, toned, and moisturized; my hair still slightly damp from the shower. The heady scent of lavender-and-vanilla infused the room with stillness. Slowly and peacefully, I surrendered to the seductive whispers of Hypnos, and consciousness slipped away from me.

Just kidding!

Want to know what really happened? I did jump into bed around 10:17, but then remembered that I needed to put lotion on my face. While I finished my skincare routine, I remembered that I had wanted to look on Amazon for some supplements. Twenty minutes later, I was still standing at the bathroom sink. When I finally made it back to bed, I told myself I’d only spend another ten minutes on my phone.

I next put down my phone at 2:03 am.

ADHD is notoriously associated with sleep problems and circadian-rhythm disorders in both children and adults.1,2  Some research has even suggested that different ADHD subtypes are related to specific sleep problems.3

[Read This: How to Leverage Sleep, Exercise, and Diet to Improve ADHD]

While scientists don’t yet fully understand the relationship between sleep and ADHD, it’s well-known that a lack of quality of sleep can negatively impact a person’s physiological, psychological, and psychosocial functioning. Many of these effects overlap with and exasperate ADHD symptoms, potentially creating an even more stressful environment.

Most of us are familiar with common recommendations for ensuring a good night’s sleep: meditate, drink chamomile tea, read a book, reduce your exposure to blue light, etc. In general, I’ve found these tips not terribly useful for an adult with ADHD. For instance, an interesting book will keep me wide awake all night, and meditation is nearly impossible after a long day of stimulation.

So, I set out to find a solution.

After several interviews and lots of time on Internet forums, I’ve compiled these unique tips on how to work with your ADHD to get some quality shut-eye:

  1. Put something uninteresting and boring on the TV. The lack of stimulation might make it easier to fall asleep!
  2. Listen to hypnosis recordings on YouTube.
  3. Take up to 10mg of melatonin. While this shouldn’t be done habitually, it can be a great tool to help get your body used to falling asleep at a specific time.
  4. Perform a quick bodyweight workout before your nightly shower. A couple sets of push-ups, squats, and planks should suffice.
  5. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Sadly, that nightly glass of red wine might be causing insomnia according to an article in Sleep Medicine.4
  6. If you have the flexibility now, adjust your daily schedule to include a later bedtime and wake-up time. As the saying goes: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! During these challenging times, it is particularly important to stay healthy and vigorous. If sleep evades you despite your dedication to chamomile tea, trying the alternative solutions mentioned above just might do the trick.

Sweet dreams!

[Click To Read: Anxiety Is Our New Normal — Surrendering to It Is Not]


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References

1 Efron, D., Lycett, K., & Sciberras, E. (2014). Use of sleep medication in children with ADHD. Sleep Medicine, 15:472-475.

2 Marije Boonstra, A., Kooj, S., Oosterlaan, J., Sergeant, J., Buitelaar, J., Van Someren, E.J.W. (2007). Hyperactive night and day? Actigraphy studies in adult ADHD: A baseline comparison and the effect of methylphenidate. Sleep, 30(4).

3 Gruber, R. (2009). Sleep characteristics of children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Child Adolescent Psychiatry Clinics of North American, 18:862-876. PMID: 19836693 DOI: 10.1016/j.chc.2009.04.011

4 Grandner, M. A., Kripke, D. F., Naidoo, N., & Langer, R. D. (2010). Relationships among dietary nutrients and subjective sleep, objective sleep, and napping in women. Sleep medicine, 11(2), 180–184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2009.07.014

Updated on August 7, 2020

3 Related Links

  1. Putting on something boring… in college I hate a rotation of Hunt for Red October, Fish Called Wanda, and Raising Arizona in my VCR. They were enough to distract the ADD part of my brain and let the rest of it fall asleep.

  2. When my thoughts run from one thing to another, I find audiobooks [when well read, e.g. from Audible and my local library] always help me fall asleep, usually before the 15 min sleep timer has finished. The book distracts from all other thoughts.

    Best not to watch TV or use mobile phone, as the blue light from screens stops production of melatonin, leading to poor quality sleep. Best to shut all screens down c. 1 hour before bedtime.

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