The importance of good sleep can hardly be overestimated. Especially for those with ADHD and other neurodivergencies. We need our time to replenish more than most!
Meaning we need to go beyond the simple remedies like lavender oil and hot milk and dive deep into what can be problematic about sleep for us specifically. Things like:
- not getting to bed on time
- procrastinating going to sleep with in bed activities
- distractions in the bedroom
- unable to fall asleep once you are in bed, and have the lights out
- restless legs
- rumination/worry keeping you up
- boredom leaving your mind seeking stimulation instead of sleep
- excessive dreaming
- worries, heavy dreaming, apnea, or other reasons for waking up leading to middle-of-the-night wakefulness
- waking earlier than needed in the morning and not getting back to sleep
- not getting enough deep sleep
- not getting enough rem sleep (this is where you dream most often)
I’ll cover a few of these that are connected to getting to bed and to sleep for now. And cover some of the things we look at when I coach people. Since this is such a broad topic I’m splitting it into more blogs. You can read the second part of this series here: Part 2: Sleep, ADHD and other neurodiversities
Since we want to avoid using addictive sleeping medications that do not solve the issue long term, I’m starting a blog series to look at some of the things that can keep us from getting enough sleep, or enough quality rest from our hours spent in bed.
I’ve given up, I’m just not good at this
Please, please don’t give up on reading this blog, or thinking about how to solve this issue, if you have it. I know a lot of us suffer from intervention fatigue on this: we’ve tried it ALL. We are almost tempted to accept being permanently exhausted as a way of life. But being well-rested is a foundation for everything else! If there is one place worthy of investing your efforts to improve it’s here (and in exercise!). You’ll notice your mood and your executive functions improve after a period of getting better sleep. Paradoxically the beginning stages of getting better sleep can leave us feeling super tired. Don’t let that fool you into giving up! It truly gets better and it is a sign of being chronically underslept. So be prepared for that challenge and follow through! .
Some ideas for improvement
Having ADHD can make it really hard to get the amount of sleep we REALLY need. The two main things people I coach on this topic struggle with are:
- Getting to bed on time
- Getting to sleep once in bed
I’ll tackle the first issue in this blog and give some basic suggestions.
Even these two main problems tend to be highly personal in how they present, so keep in mind in coaching we can come up with different solutions that suit you when those mentioned below do not work.
Getting to bed on time
When people struggle with getting to sleep on time usually one or more of these applies:
- they procrastinate on getting to bed
- they ‘get lost’ in other activities on the way to bed
- they have no bedtime routine so there is no pre-built habit they can follow even with a tired brain to finish all the steps they need to take to get to bed.
Which ones apply to you?
Once you have your list, get really curious about your answers to further questions.
Why exactly do you procrastinate? What does that look like? When do you NOT procrastinate on getting to be? What is the difference in that case?
Getting ‘lost’ on the way
What activities pull you in at night? Can you block yourself from these somehow (i.e. automatically turning off the internet after 22:00)? Why do you want to engage with these things just as you are off to bed? Are these things you have been procrastinating on during the day? Are they self-care activities? How can you remember the need to “do these things later” without going into ” doing now”? Can you do some of these things before you are really tired? I.e. I sometimes brush my teeth before watching television, to avoid skipping it when I’m super tired & on my way to bed.
When you have no bedtime routine and do things differently each evening, you are asking a lot of a brain that is already tired. You may get to bed and then remember you still have not brushed your teeth, run into the cat on the way to the bathroom, and *poof* it’s another hour later. Make it easier on yourself by training yourself to do the necessary steps in a fixed order. Using checklists or visual reminders can help. Try to include rewarding yourself for finishing the process. The rewards can be simple but effective: like a nice cup of unsugared tea in bed, a good book or pre-warming the bed)
Once you are getting to bed on time a bit more often, it’s useful to look into getting enough quality sleep with other hacks… I’ll try to write more on that later. I hope to go into the difficulties in getting to sleep once you are in bed in the next sleep blog.
Make this a priority: it really works!
Getting more and better quality sleep should be a ‘top of your list’ thing to tackle, just like exercise. I cannot stress enough how fundamental both sleep and exercise are to keeping an ADHD brain healthy and running like a dream.
ADHD exacerbates when we do not exercise enough or get enough sleep, ALL the scientific studies show this. So these two impact every other aspect in your life where you feel you are struggling or want to achieve more….
That said: sleep can be a real issue for those with ADHD so do not be afraid to ask for help and NEVER ever FEEL ASHAMED for not making do with the ‘easy sleep hacks’ that tend to work for more neurotypical brains.
Just remember: nobody is perfect, not even your ADHD coach. Suffice it to say this has been a struggle for me all my life, and I regularly fall back into bad sleeping habits. But I notice it sooner nowadays, and I have a gameplan to quickly climb out of most pitfalls when I notice I’ve stepped into them.
Want to know more?
Here is the second part of this blog Part 2: Sleep, ADHD and other neurodiversities And I’ll likely write more in future…
Keep in touch
Have a pressing question around sleep? Post a comment, email me your question or book a free coaching consultation call on the contact page
Further reading / other tips
Why We Sleep : Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker – This is an amazing book if your want to find out more about sleep, why we need it, and the science around sleep
First published 25th Jan 2021, updated Nov 26th, 2021