As I grow older, I may realize that I don’t know as much about the world as I thought. But one thing is crystal clear: sleep matters.
My mood, behavior, and capability to actually do things all hinges on how much sleep I’ve gotten over the past week.
My ADHD sometimes makes it difficult to get enough of it as I roleplay Sysiphus, where the boulder is my constantly fluctuating sleep schedule.
Yes, to no one’s surprise, ADHD also affects our sleeping patterns! As if we didn’t have enough things to contend with already…
But in any case! Now is not the time to be sad; it’s time to kick ADHD’s butt! 💪 😎
And today’s serving of butt-kicking will focus on all the things sleep-related and how to finally catch dem Zzz’s.
Today, you will learn:
- How ADHD makes sleeping a challenge
- The most typical sleep disturbances caused by ADHD. From the inability to fall asleep to restless sleep and more.
- Why it is important to pay attention to your sleep hygiene.
- How to find the help you need.
Alright, you’re ready?
Let’s dig in!
[Sleep and ADHD Connection] Why ADHD Makes Sleeping a Challenge?
If you want a really simple answer: 🤷
I’m saying here that there is no definitive answer on the precise mechanisms and biological quirks that make ADHDers more prone to developing sleeping issues. It’s not like with some other things where we can go and say, “Well, you get sick because of the influenza virus” or somesuch.
So, the causal connection is not here yet, and the best answer we can muster is that ADHD causes sleeping problems.
Even if we put aside complex neurological stuff, how ADHD manifests can make sleep not a rest but an everyday challenge.
Too Many Stimulants
Although some ADHDers claim that coffee calms them down, for the most part, it’s not a good idea to chug too much caffeine, especially close to night-time, because of its obvious energizing effects.
But it’s not only coffee! In large enough quantities, nicotine, too, can act as a stimulant and keep you wide awake. So, if you indulge, maybe take it easy before bed.
According to Merriam-Webster, the schedule is a procedural plan that indicates the time and sequence of each operation. Which is all fine and dandy, provided that you fully grasp the concept of time.
Many ADHDers have what is known as time blindness3, an inability to sense the passing of time or properly estimate how much this or the other task will take.
So what ends up happening is that you can be chilling, scrolling memes on your phone, and then BAM - it’s 5 a.m., and birds are chirpin’.
Unfortunately, ADHDers are prone to developing conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or depression. This article isn’t about those, so I won’t be delving too much into their symptoms and intricacies. But let’s just say they can make sleep feel like an impossibility sometimes.
Let’s take anxiety as an example. ADHDers are already prone to restless minds that make it difficult to fall asleep as you bounce from one thought to another without an end in sight. Add anxiety into the mixture to give those thoughts a nasty undertone, and you’ll be spending four to five hours aimlessly staring at your ceiling.
[ADHD and Insomnia]ADHD and Insomnia
The issue that’s the easiest to explain and that most of y’all will relate to is insomnia, a problem that plagues almost half of the ADHD population.1
A typical scene: you feel tired all day, barely holding on at work or in school, but as soon as you hit the sack, poof, the drowsiness is gone.
Instead, you gain this inexplicable jolt of energy and this desire to do something that you will not fall asleep even if you tried your best to commit to the plan and not get up from your bed.
But even if you somehow win in that mental battle against yourself, it’s not like you’re guaranteed a night of refreshing sleep because…
[ADHD and Restless Sleep] ADHD Restless Sleep
Not all eepie time is created equal. While some people may enjoy a refreshing, 8-hour shuteye, ADHDers sometimes have to contend with a restless, messy, hyper-aware sleep. You may wake up from every odd sound or flash of light, forcing you to wake up over and over again.
Even when we want it, our minds can’t fully shut off and keep trying to process everything simultaneously as we desperately want some rest.
[ADHD and Time Borrowing] Living on Borrowed Time
This is more of an observational trait, but I’ve noticed myself doing it more often than I would like to admit.
So, whenever I stumble upon my totally unexpected episode of ADHD paralysis, I end up doing…well, not a lot.
But, you see, the tricky little thing about this adult life is that it consists of things I should be doing and things I really want to be doing. And because sometimes I barely have enough willpower to do just one of those (if at all), I will have to catch up on being productive or fun.
Well, everybody knows that the best way to catch up on things is…just to borrow time from tomorrow and make the future you miserable.
Whether it results in you oversleeping or just barely sleeping for 3 hours because you have to get up means that you will mess up your circadian (no cicadas are involved) rhythms and make it even harder for yourself to go to sleep on schedule the day after.
ADHD Intrusive Sleep
Now, this is going to be the most interesting sleeping disorder affecting ADHDers. Imagine this: you’re clicking away on social media, getting those dopamines like there’s no tomorrow. You feel active, energetic, and ready to take on the world.
Yet, everything collapses when you decide to be productive and do something boring. In a flash, all your energy dissipates. I legitimately experienced that and never understood why.
(Un)surprisingly, the answer is just plain boredom. Well, that’s the short version.
The long version is that ADHDers experience high levels of daydreaming, 2 often caused by the rapid shift from hyper-focusing on something interesting to doing something extremely boring.
When you’re bored, your brain will try to find something to latch on to. And when it can’t find anything interesting, it will just try and fall asleep.
[ADHD and Lack of Sleep: Consequences]Does it Matter if ADHD Messes Up Our Sleep?
This question isn’t as foolish as it might look at first glance. Of course, lack of sleep is a problem, but in a world where there are so many problems, why should we care about sleep?
Although we can’t 100% answer why we need sleep in the first place, we do know that it is an important thing, and sleep deprivation can lead to many problems of physical and psychological variety.
Lack of sleep impairs our cognitive functions. We may struggle to focus on tasks, develop temporary memory issues, and develop mood disorders. Considering that these are already quite common symptoms of ADHD, it would be safe to say that lack of sleep can make your ADHD much more intense.
These consequences don’t exist in isolation. Lack of focus, irritability, constant sleepiness - all these things will also impact your personal and professional relationships. If you can’t focus, you can’t perform, so your grades or job tasks will suffer. In turn, this creates a stress loop where the failures make you more stressed, making you lose even more sleep, and so on. Yeah…
Suffice it to say that sleep is something that should be addressed. And we haven’t even started on the physical consequences! Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to such issues as hypertension5 and negative changes to the health of your gut biome.6
Now that we have hopefully established that losing sleep is a bad idea, let’s figure out how to avoid these uncomfortable and potentially dangerous consequences to your well-being.
[Solutions for ADHD and Sleep Problems] ADHD and Sleep: How to Finally Reconcile the Two
Well, now that we have figured out bits and bobs of ADHD sleep deprivances, let’s look at how we can approach and fix those, shall we?
If You Have Issues Falling Asleep
First, let’s figure out how to get to the part where you sleep.
And to understand that, let’s touch on the subject of “sleep hygiene.” No, that doesn’t involve any bathing.
Sleep hygiene is about specific rules and norms you must follow to ensure your sleep is nice and restful.
The most basic example would be avoiding blue light sometime before sleep as it’s known to cause sleep disturbances4. So, at best, PCs, phones, TV - just avoid them. If you can’t help it, use a blue light filter (through an app or glasses) to put less strain on your eyes.
Since we’re ADHDers and just can’t help but be special, our sleep hygiene comes with some more caveats. For instance, maybe you’re one of those folks with a constant barrage of thoughts flying around in your head whenever you try to sleep. Then, you may consider a noise generator app that will calm your brain by giving you something mindless to focus on.
Commit to the Schedule & Routine
Sometimes, I think life makes a lot more sense if we stop thinking about ourselves like some sophisticated, qazi-divine beings and instead realize that we’re just robots made of meat.
And like any robot, the system is much more stable and predictable if there are no surprises or deviations from protocol. I mean, it's easier said than done when you have ADHD, but you do have to try.
This means that bed is only for bed things. So, if you’re not having intimate time with your partner or trying to sleep, then forget that bed exists. Doing so can condition your brain to run specific routines (if you will) whenever you go to bed. It’s a bit like a Pavlovian response to a bell, just bed-shaped.
Actually Go to Bed
It may sound like a “Duh” moment, but you’d be surprised how many ADHDers don’t follow this basic step. As much as you enjoy being the night owl and grinding the nights away until society finally accepts night people as equals, it’s more harm than good.
The bottom line is that all these sleep hygiene suggestions don’t work if you’re not in bed. So, get to it.
The Medical Approach
Yet, if it were as simple as just following some basic routines, there would be no need for this and many similar articles on the web as the issue would solve itself.
Sometimes, your sleep disturbances run deeper than usual and may need a gentle boost from your doctor or, in some cases, re-evaluation.
Observe for Comorbidities and Other Sleep Disorders
Just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t have all other disorders and conditions that don’t help. We’ve already talked about depression and anxiety, but some disorders pertain to sleep, specifically insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, etc.
If you tried your best to adhere to a specific schedule, but it still amounts to nothing, then it may be wise to seek an opinion from your doctor, who may even suggest a sleep study in some circumstances.
Now, this is the part where I urge you not to attempt self-diagnostics and self-medication stuff because sleep aids - even like melatonin - can get spooky if prescribed for the wrong cause and at the wrong dosages.
You should consult with your doctor before adding anything new to your pill ration, but if they greenlight such an approach, you’d just take a pill before bedtime to help relax your mind and body.
With the proper approach, the only real downside to those is that they can make you more sleepy than you’d like, so waking up can be challenging. If you sometimes struggle with that part of the day, ask your doctor.
[Numo ADHD App] Numo: Your ADHD and Sleep Companion
Now, let’s take a short moment to consider why the Numo app can be your helpful aide and companion through ADHD issues, sleep-related or otherwise. I’m an unbiased person to tell you about it 😏
Anyhoo. Numo is for ADHDers by ADHDers, so when we were creating this app, we 100% understood what we wanted from the ADHD app.
Since we’re talking about sleep today, first, let’s highlight our static noise generator. Listening to static noise can calm an overstimulated mind, allowing you to drift away into sleep safe from rushing thoughts.
But that’s not the only thing! 👀
- Numo also has an ADHD planner to help you prioritize your tasks and responsibilities. Creating a detailed plan for your day can keep ADHD paralysis at bay, as you will always know what to do next. Just don’t forget to add “sleeping” to your schedule 😉
- We also share various tips and tricks on how to live with ADHD in a bite-sized format. So, if you ever want to brush up your knowledge or discover new coping strategies for ADHD, it’s your one-way stop!
- Finally, our crowning jewel is our squads and tribes. These are the communities of our fellow ADHDers that hang out to share memes and dreams, laugh and cry together, and so much more! And who knows, one of your fellow tribespeople will have a sleep solution that will work for you.
So, hop on in if you’d like. We’d be happy to have you! 🤗
So, let’s sum up what we have learned today, shall we?
- ADHD can directly influence our sleeping patterns. Restlessness, caffeine dependency, and time blindness are some ADHD symptoms that can directly disrupt the sleeping schedule, making it difficult to fall asleep on time.
- ADHD can affect all parts of the sleeping cycle. While some ADHDers may struggle to go to bed, others won’t fall asleep no matter how hard they try. In some circumstances, even if ADHDers manage to fall asleep, their sleep will not be fulfilling, as they will constantly wake up throughout the night, leaving them as tired as they were before going to bed.
- It is important to take ADHD sleep deprivation seriously. When you are chronically unable to get enough sleep, you’ll become irritable, disorganized, and lose concentration. Lack of sleep will make every aspect of life more challenging than it should be and can even impact your physical health in the long term.
- The first thing you should try is to establish a sleeping routine. You shouldn’t be doing anything in bed besides sleeping, and you should always go to sleep on time, regardless of how sleepy/awake you’re feeling.
- If simple routine adjustment fails, you may consider sleeping medication. Obviously, you should first consult with your doctor, as they will help you pick the right medicine and dosage.
Sleep remains one of those fundamental things on which everything else is built. If your sleep is lacking, everything else will soon follow. It’s really hard to focus on anything when all you want to do is sleep.
I sincerely hope you will find a solution to your ADHD and sleep problems, whether through us or by any other means.
Until then, see you next time 🤗
1 Insomnia Disorder in Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Patients: Clinical, Comorbidity, and Treatment Correlates
2 The key role of daytime sleepiness in cognitive functioning of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
3 Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Review
4 The influence of blue light on sleep, performance and wellbeing in young adults: A systematic review