“After a Day of Fog, I Can Finally Think Clearly Late at Night.”
Many adults with ADHD are self-described (and quite happy) “night owls.” As stimuli and distractions dim, creativity and productivity shine while the rest of the world sleeps. But staying up too late can sabotage daytime work responsibilities. Here, learn why adults burn the midnight oil, and how it impacts their relationships and mental health.
The cacophony of life diminishes with the dying light. As the rest of the world tucks into bed, our phones and brains grow quiet. We are able to process and focus and create with a special clarity at night — and the later the better, it seems.
As we know, ADHD makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up by impairing the brain’s ability to sustain and regulate arousal and alertness. But this ADHD symptom is not universally bad, according to the ADDitude readers who said they do their best thinking and creating during the distraction-free quiet of nighttime. Read their stories below and add yours to the Comments section below.
Night Owls with ADHD
“Staying up late has been a huge issue for me as a stay-at-home mom. I always want to push myself to wake before my kids so I can ease into the craziness of the day, but I am too exhausted from staying up late. The vicious cycle continues when my brain wakes up after I get my kids in bed – the house is finally quiet enough for me to process all of the endless stimuli I’ve had thrown at me all day.” – Anonymous
“Growing up, nighttime was my private time to read, watch, or listen to whatever I wanted. Now, especially since I’ve had kids, nighttime feels like my chance to get work done. But with big projects, distraction and procrastination lead to all-nighters. Late nights crash into early mornings and getting the kids ready for school. I tell myself I’ll catch up on sleep during the weekend, but we all know it doesn’t work that way.” – Steve
“I described myself as a night owl for a long time, but I was actually just practicing Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. I wasn’t necessarily more productive; I just tended to stay up late playing video games and scrolling though social media. Other times, I justified my late nights by using the time to plan a new elaborate system that would help me organize and fix my life. Only getting three hours of sleep each night, however, did not give me a lot of energy to follow through on these plans.” – Joe
“I like to work on my least preferred tasks at night because that’s the time when there are no interruptions and minimal distractions. I don’t have people contacting me at night, so I’m not faced with the difficult task of telling people ‘no.’ It’s just me and my work.” – Anonymous
“No matter what time I get out of bed, I don’t mentally wake up until the sun is going down. I often stay up working, writing, and studying until the sun rises, and then sleep until the afternoon. I finally realized I had Sensory Processing Sensitivity and ADHD, and there are too many distractions during the day.” – Anonymous
“Being a night owl is a quality that I never associated with ADHD; I assumed the pressure of a deadline was what enabled me to stay up all night making Halloween costumes every October 30th! The late-night hours are also the time when solitude is possible and distracting stimulus is gone.” – Janet
“Nighttime feels like ‘bonus hours’ because the rest of the world sleeps and I’m able to focus without distractions. When I stay up late and get a lot done, I get so happy and energized. I think that is what led to me being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder in my early 20s – the lack of patterned sleep, erratic energy, and no focus.” – Emery
“I am much more creative and productive at night. It’s like a light switch flips on and, after a day of fog, I can finally think clearly. If I weren’t medicated, I would stay up until 3 or 4 am. When I take my ADHD medication I have a more ‘normal’ schedule, but it’s a shame because I produce some of my best poetry and artwork when I go a day without medication and then work through the night. Picking which days I sacrifice productivity so that later I can be creative is tricky to manage.” – Hayley
“I’m a writer, and I’ve always felt most creative at 2 or 3 am. This means that my sleep schedule slips toward completely nocturnal whenever I’m stressed, frustrated, or creative. The ADHD medication Strattera helps solve those problems; I honestly never knew what it was like to wake up feeling refreshed until I started taking it! Unfortunately, I can’t take my medication when I’m pregnant or nursing, which makes keeping a proper sleep schedule a massive struggle for me.”– Jenalyn
“I do feel more creative at night, but I don’t let myself work beyond midnight. Otherwise, I risk not being able to sleep at all because the creative juices won’t stop flowing. I try to be in bed by 1 am, but often it winds up being almost 2 am. Then I have to play Solitaire on my phone for about 5 to 10 minutes to distract me. Listening to ‘Sleepcasts’ – boring stories on the Headspace or Calm apps – also helps me fall asleep.” – Audrey
“For more than 30 years, I’ve been my most productive after 10 pm. Now that I don’t have to fit into a normal work schedule, I’m staying up even later. I get engrossed in reading, listening to TV or audiobooks, and playing solitaire. I make sure to get around 6 hours of sleep, but I’m ashamed I can’t do more in the morning or meet with friends prior to 1 pm.” – Anonymous
“I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, and my entire childhood I was constantly in trouble for having so much energy at night. ‘You’ll be normal once you have to wake up at the same time every day for work,’ everyone would said. Now, I am 32 and still a night owl, and I also don’t have the same circadian rhythm as those ‘normal people.’ I thrive on 5 hours of sleep, not 8 to 9 hours, and I’ve stopped shaming myself for being able to get things done at night that I struggle to get done during the day.” – Anonymous
“I could never be on time to high school, early classes in college, or a 9-to-5 job because I was always up late. When I waited tables and work started at 3 pm, I was always on time and then I’d stay up until 2 am and sleep until noon. Now, as a mom, I have to wake up by 8 am and be in bed by 10 pm. I wish I could stay up to write, paint, and read, but I would be a ‘mombie’ all the next day.” – Anonymous
“I definitely get more done after dinnertime – I have to set an alarm to remind myself to go to bed. It takes me more than 2 hours to fall asleep because of my racing thoughts. My brain is like a TV with a broken remote control. Mornings are useless for me even on my days off.” – Anonymous
“As an infant, my parents would check on me around 2 am and find me happily playing with my mobiles. By 6 months, I was sitting up and playing with my stuffed animals. By 9 years old, my mother would catch me hiding under the covers with a flashlight reading novels. And so it goes to age 70. I have read hundreds of articles on sleep needs and tips. Finally, my husband helped me come up with a routine that gets me into bed around midnight. Forget the endless tips. It’s your life; what works for everyone else might not work for you.” – Anonymous
Night Owls with ADHD: Next Steps
- Learn: End the ‘I Can’t Sleep’ Cycle of Exhaustion
- Download: Our Readers’ Favorite Sleep and Self-Care Apps
- Read: Oh, I See You’re Awake, Too
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