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“My ADHD Morning Routine: Noise-Cancelling Headphones, a Double Espresso — and Intimacy”

“I’m such a restless sleeper, my cognitive functioning rarely gets up to speed before 10 a.m. To resolve this, I created a morning routine fit for people with ADHD.”

A Teen with ADHD who can't fall asleep at night

Mornings suck. It’s a fact. If you don’t believe me, ask someone else who has ADHD.

Many individuals with ADHD have a late circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). I believe this links back to the Watchman Theory, which posits that people with ADHD are wired to be night watchmen and hunters. Most of our current advantages and disadvantages trace back to the time of this vital role when our “symptoms” would have saved lives.

Restless Sleep & ADHD

I digress. Basically, people with ADHD don’t sleep or have morning routines like neurotypical people. We hardly sleep at all when we’re feeling stressed or threatened, and it’s been a very stressful few years globally. It just feels weird to go to bed before midnight. We instinctively stay up late, almost as if we are meant to guard those sleeping peacefully around us.

Of course, this may mess us up when we’re working 9-to-5 jobs. Prolonged sleep deprivation leads to flare-ups of our ADHD symptoms. Grouchy mornings are the price we (and, to a greater extent, the people we live with) pay for unnecessarily protecting people who have evolved to understand how locked doors work.

Almost every night, I wake up at precisely 4:22 a.m., and I have no idea why, but it often indicates that I’m processing subconscious stress. It’s also the time when most neurotypical people enter the deepest stage of sleep and, therefore, are most vulnerable to the “threats” I’m hard-wired to prevent.

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Restless sleep also continues when I’m in unfamiliar environments. I stayed awake throughout a 36-hour flight home from Indonesia once because I didn’t want someone nicking my bag. Yes, I was in an airplane, which is the ultimate contained environment, and flight attendants patrol like Pac-Man with a tray in front of 300 witnesses. There was no logical way a thief could manage to escape with my wallet at 40,000 feet, but still, I couldn’t fall asleep. I stretched in the aisle, drank some nightcaps, watched movies I knew were boring, and read everything in the safety leaflet I found crunched up in the seat pocket.

Once home, I tried to stay up until it went dark. (In British mid-summer, the sun sets around 11 p.m.) I got home in time for lunch and passed out at 6 p.m., only to wake up two hours later because of jetlag.

Another time, the police showed up at my door to ask a few questions about a car accident I had witnessed months before, but I wasn’t home. The police couldn’t tell my parents why they needed to speak with me for legal reasons, and they didn’t return my calls for a month. The anxiety made me unable to sleep for six weeks. I averaged one hour of sleep a night, despite working two jobs and moving that month. I looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings when I finally gave the police my statement.

Morning Routine Must-Have #1: A Double Espresso

Because I’m such a restless sleeper, my cognitive functioning rarely gets up to speed before 10 a.m. I’ll wake up at 7 a.m., no problem, but I’m on autopilot. There’s no real thinking in my head beyond the atavistic functioning of a caveman or managing simple, routine tasks.

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To resolve this, I’ve devised a morning routine for people with ADHD.

First, I recommend asking a partner or roommate (if you have one) to make you a double espresso and a light breakfast. (A slice of toast will do; it doesn’t need to be fancy though I could argue that how much the person loves you directly correlates to what you are fed.) A push into the shower is also appreciated (I suggest adding a waterproof speaker in the bathroom for a little extra pep).

The simple gesture of pouring someone with ADHD a coffee first thing in the morning makes the difference between a good start to the day and one that feels like a screaming toddler is constantly kicking you. It’s such a little thing, but it’s the cornerstone of a great relationship, leaving us with that “someone loves me” glow all morning.

Morning Routine Must-Have #2: Intimacy

For an even better glow, I recommend morning sex if you’re lucky enough to wake up next to a willing partner. Isn’t sex scientifically proven to be the best thing for you in every way? If anything, it’s a better motivator for waking up than “going to the gym.” If you’re going to be late for work, you may as well do so with a satisfied grin. It’s a win-win for everyone except, maybe, your boss (unless they happen to be your partner, too, you little scoundrel).

Morning Routine Must-Have #3: The “10 a.m. Rule”

When hanky panky isn’t a morning routine option, the “10 a.m. rule” is a slightly less exciting reason to awake from slumber.

My old housemate hated mornings more than I did. I’m far too chatty for her before midday, and I’m not exactly providing blockbuster content, so we made the “10 a.m. rule.”

We wore noise-cancelling headphones until we felt sociable, or it was 10 a.m. It takes a little practice. The wearing and removal of the headphones signal that you’re ready to start your day or communicate.

Listening to music is also stimulating and rhythmic, so it helps wake you up and gives you a sense of timing – two tracks in the shower (you’re allowed to take your headphones off), one while you’re brushing your teeth, four for breakfast, and you’re off.

For the “10 a.m. rule” to work, it’s important to have something scheduled around 10 a.m. – a job-related meeting or deadline, plans with a friend, or a class.

Morning Routine Must-Have #4: Noise-Cancelling Headphones

The “10 a.m. rule” has also helped me acclimate to my workday and prevented me from getting distracted on the job. After the obligatory “good mornings,” it is much easier to settle in listening to some good tunes, and I have no impulse to interrupt a conversation with an anecdote or comment when I’m wearing my headphones. Instead, I just get my to-do list and work started. These behaviors made me more likable to my new colleagues (I think).

Morning Routine: Next Steps

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