Fix your inconsistent ADHD bedtime

Time for bed?

I have always struggled to get to bed on time. So writes the author at 2am!

It should be so simple. A neuro-typical (average, non-ADHD) friend might suggest: “just go to bed on time”. But like everything else ADD/ADHD, it is just not that easy! For most adults with ADHD, getting to bed at the right time is very difficult indeed.
  • Many people with ADD/ADHD are at their most alert in the evening, wanting to work, read or play in this quiet time. Bat genes, maybe? More likely a combination of impacted time sense and sleep hormone (melatonin) disregulation, now defined as Sleep Phase Disorder, highly prevalent in ADHD.
  • Evenings and night times are responsibility free, undisturbed and quiet, much easier to focus at night than in the busy, interrupted day time
  • The ADHD drive for stimulation and hyperfocus means we love internet browsing (20 tabs open), computer games and TV. But these highly stimulating activities wake us and drive away sleep, dragging ourselves away is painful!
  • Going to bed is hard work, bedtime chores – brushing teeth, getting changed, preparing bags/food for the next day. All such a drag…
  • Mornings aren’t much fun either, full of “have todo’s” and “musts”, the commute, rush, work etc. By delaying sleep, weirdly, we delay our painful mornings, staying up delays the arrival of morning. It does but not a helpful strategy!
  • Most crazily of all, since we are in the moment – detached from our future, we fail to consider the consequences of staying up till 3am will have four hours later on our future waking selves. It seems that “Night-time Andrew” doesn’t give a ****, how tired “Morning Andrew” will be next day.
It should be so simple. A neuro-typical (average, non-ADHD) friend might suggest: “just go to bed on time”. But like everything else ADD/ADHD, it is just not that easy! For most adults with ADHD, getting to bed at the right time is very difficult indeed.


    Does it really matter?

    Despite the many justifiable excuses for why we tend to stay up late, we do need the sleep. So how do we persuade ourselves to go to bed? Being tired is like having ADHD++, since lack of sleep impacts memory, focus, motivation already issues with ADD/ADHD. Further WebMD lists some of the issues with lack of sleep, including death!
    • Higher chance of accidents and injuries
    • Impaired attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving
    • Lack of “consolidation” of day memories
    • Health problems including heart disease, heart attack/failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes
    • Less interest in sex
    • Low mood, sleepiness is depressing, people with insomnia are 5 times as likely to develop depression
    • Immune system is weakened, much of immune and repair functioning take place in sleep
    • Ages your body, sallow skin,  fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. Cortisol breaks down collagen, that keeps our skin elastic.
    • Weaker body, insufficient growth hormone to increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones.
    • Weight gain – increase in hunger, shortened sleep decreases leptin and elevates in ghrelin that regulate appetite
    • Impaired judgment – studies show over time that people who get 6 hours of sleep, instead of 7/8, feel that they’ve adapted but tests of mental alertness and performance show they are unaware that they continue to go downhill
    • Increase risk of death, the “Whitehall II Study” in 2007, looked at 10,000 civil servants, over 20 years. Those who cut sleep from 7 to 5 hours nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes

      Make some changes

      So we have good reasons to change our routine and like everything ADHD, the trick is to make it easier and more enjoyable. Our problem is often not only in falling asleep, it’s in getting to bed. Here’s a few thoughts on how:

      Examine your pre-bedtime routine
      • Can you eliminate any of the pre-bed chores?
      • Could you do them earlier, so that they don’t stand between you and bed?
      • When would you do them instead and how will you remember?
      • Perhaps set an alarm for say 30 minutes to trigger your new bedtime routine

      Can you make your bedroom more attractive?
      • How can you make going to bed more appealing?
      • Do you like your bedroom?
      • Maybe buy some new pillows, tidy up/clear out the room
      • Take a sleep-inducing tea like valerian to bed with you
      • Make sure you have a good book to read
      • Forget “sleep hygiene” rules and take your laptop to bed with you, use headphones if watching movie!
      • Bring your lounge habits to bed, once you’re horizontal, it’s much easier to attempt sleep

      Could you change your mornings?
      • Would it be great to think of mornings with pleasure not pain?
      • Could you start the day earlier but with an activity you enjoy?
        • A leisurely breakfast with a chance to read?
        • A visit to a coffee shop for a latte and some planning?
        • Take a walk?
      • Get up with, not after, your partner?
      • Shift your mornings, so you look forward to breakfast.

      Make yourself a sleepy drink or snack
      • A small amount of carbohydrates, milk or a herbal tea may help with sleepiness
      • Create a more pleasant bedtime routine
      • Stay in the kitchen with your drink, don’t return to the subject of your previous hyper-focus
      • A few minutes separation may help break your temporary addiction to Facebook etc
      • Redirect yourself toward bed not the lounge

      Get your circadian rhythms back to normal
      • Try out melatonin, the natural sleep hormone that we lack
      • Check out a sunrise light to reset your natural sleep and wake times
      • Use a yellow filter on your phone/laptop to avoid the wake up effect of blue light

      Time for bed

      Try tonight. Get to bed early with your cocoa or camomile tea, snuggle up with your book and look forward to deep healthy sleep and a pleasant start to your day. Sweet dreams…
      ADHD Coach, Andrew Lewis

      Andrew Lewis

      Andrew Lewis is an ADHD Coach, writer and founder of SimplyWellbeing. He has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of experience in coaching hundreds of ADHD executives, business professionals and creatives, and previously running a large ADHD support group and an ADHD diagnostic clinic. His business expertise comes from a twenty years career in software, from programming, through marketing, sales and running a few start-ups. His ADHD insight is personal, with decades understanding his own ADHD experience and in bringing up his ADHD daughter. He has published his writing primarily via this website, with interactive ADHD courses in development.

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