Beyond Genes: Leveraging Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition to Improve ADHD
ADHD is genetic, but it is also environmental — to a degree. You can’t change your DNA. But you CAN change your eating, fitness, and sleep habits — all of which may have real, positive effects on ADHD symptoms. Here’s how.
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3 Comments: Beyond Genes: Leveraging Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition to Improve ADHD
I have to agree with both the above comments, but would like to expand a little.
First, I don’t know what Dr Barkley is now saying about sugar, but back when I read it, I didn’t take it that one should sip on sugary drinks all day, but just when one was trying to concentrate, as the glucose (and maybe serotonin) would help in the moment. I have to admit I never tried it, and count myself very lucky never to have fallen into the sugary drink trap. (I have other vices, so didn’t need this one.)
Second, I too have experienced some cognitive and mood improvements from making a priority of sleep, exercise, and nutrition. But while I think it raises my baseline functioning–not to mention overall health–for me, there is nothing equivalent to Adderall plus Strattera.
I agree with the article that trying to improve all 3 pillars at once could be overwhelming and lead to discouragement and “failure.” I was lucky to have cooked adventurously all my life, so I already had a decent diet–not that it couldn’t be improved upon. But I was able to coast on nutrition while I worked on sleep and exercise.
I don’t know if my experience with exercise could help others with ADHD, but it might. By the grace of God I have gone from a hopelessly fatigued couch potato to a 20,000 steps, 2-3 hrs a day exerciser…but only by ignoring all the best mainstream advice there is on motivation. My 2 biggest motivators: “Something is better than nothing” and “Just a little bit more.”
Most of all, when I was having success I did NOT set new bigger goals because I DON’T need any artificial failure in my life, since I have all the unavoidable failure I can handle. Instead I still set low attainable goals… and then enjoy it when I can exceed them most of the time. When I fall short, I shamelessly make excuses, telling myself “It’s okay. You’ve been through a hard time. Something is better than nothing. Look how far you’ve come. Now just do a little bit more and you can relax.” I had already discovered that compassion from others was a big motivator for me. All I did here was try to come up with some ways to capture that same energy by being compassionate towards myself.
Sleep has been similarly a matter of finding my own way, since most of the conventional advice didn’t seem to help. Biggest things for me have been light control: Bright sunlight during the day, amber goggles in the evening to cut out blue light (since I knew I would never be able to wean myself from devices). I set a timer for 8:30 to put them on; if I do, by 10 I am literally falling asleep on my feet. Also as the article said, get ready for bed and go to bed early. No one sleeps 100% of the time, so if you want to sleep for 7 hours you must plan to be in bed for at least 8 hours.
Sleep aids I swear by: melatonin 5mg, glycine 1000mg, valerian, progesterone (Rx topical), GABA, sometimes 5-HTP and L-theanine. If I sleep poorly and need a nap, I take one, but I take very few these days. Falling asleep is still a challenge, as is waking up early, but I am getting at least an hour more sleep on average than I used to. “Something is better than nothing” “Look how far you’ve come.” Self-compassion works for sleep, too.
I am confused as to why the article claims to reduce sugar consumption. I recall Russell Barkley saying that sugar is beneficial for those with ADHD. He recommends sipping on sugary drinks throughout the day to improve attention.
My son was first diagnosed in the mid seventies when there were as many dietary solutions and in fact more dietary suggestions as there were pharmaceuticals. We tried almost all of them with limited effects. In truth they had a greater effect on me than on my son. In a later series of tests my son undertook for feeling cold all the time i suggested to the doc that i should have the test as well and he agreed. Of course my son was normal and I was extremely hypoglycemic and started a sugar free diet. Sinc i drank literally gallons of coffee double double my sugar intake took a severe hit and I did improve.Somewhere in that time period it was suggested that more sleep would be beneficial and I tried that with beneficial results. Somewhere in that time period it was suggested that more sleep would be beneficial and I tried that with beneficial results. When the doc scheduled a thyroid test for my son,and I, ai declined because we thought the creepy critter cause had ben defrocked. Little did i know that thirty years later i would have a vicious Thyroid storm and long after that we would discover I was a raging ADHD . Somewhere in that time period it was suggested that more sleep would be beneficial and I tried that with beneficial results.
This unfortunately is a long way of saying these dietary, sleep and exercise programs do work or at least they did work for me. They just didnot help as well as meds .