Everyone and every “body” is unique. Finding the right combination of approaches is the key in discovering how to get to sleep if you have ADHD/ADD!
Adults with ADHD often deal with several sleep issues. These include difficulty falling asleep at night, struggling to wake up in the morning and remaining alert during the day. Many also struggle with sleep-related disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
One key factor in figuring out how to get to sleep, wake up refreshed, and remain alert during the day, is the Circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle.
Over an approximately 24-hour period, two hormones engage in a dance that regulates our alertness and produces sleep.
Cortisol is the hormone that creates alertness and wakefulness. Its level should peak during the middle of the day. However, for individuals with ADHD, cortisol levels peak later in the day. This can cause individuals with ADHD to have more energy in the evening when the body should be preparing for sleep.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls the sleep side of the equation. Its levels typically peak in the middle of the night. The level of melatonin in the bloodstream gradually decreases towards morning. Simultaneously, the level of cortisol increases.
Light triggers the brain to release cortisol. For this reason, it’s important to decrease the illumination coming to the brain for one to two hours preceding bedtime. The reverse is true as well. Increasing the light intensity upon waking stimulates the production of cortisol, waking you up.
How to Get to Sleep – Eliminate causes of sleep disruption
Knowing how to get to sleep when you have ADHD involves removing causes of sleep disruption and making changes in your routine that encourage sleep – the Do’s and Don’ts. You’ll get more sleep if you reduce or eliminate the following sources of sleep disruption.
Stimulating foods, drinks and medications
Don’t consume coffee, caffeinated sodas and tea, or alcohol within four hours of bed. Reduce or eliminate sugar consumption as well.
Don’t eat a large meal closer than four hours before bed. However light snacks are fine since they prevent the body’s blood sugar levels form dropping during sleep and signaling the brain to increase blood sugar levels to compensate.
Don’t take over-the-counter or prescription medications containing caffeine. Read labels, and ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
Don’t plan high interest activities for late in the evening since they reduce the chance of falling asleep on schedule.
The blue light emitted from electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and energy-efficient lights signals the brain to produce cortisol. One way to protect yourself from the effects of blue light is to wear glasses with orange-tinted lenses. If you don’t wear tinted lenses, be sure to avoid “screen time” for at least one to two hours before bedtime.
Restless leg syndrome – a “crawly” sensation in your legs – is related to a deficiency in brain chemicals – specifically dopamine – and is associated with ADHD. Sleep apnea – interruption of normal breathing during sleep – may be a cause of sleep disturbance. Food sensitivities and allergies can keep your nervous system stirred up at night. Visit your doctor to obtain treatment for any sleep-related condition. Doing so can increase the success of your attempts to get to sleep.
Some people respond better to taking ADHD medication later in the day since it quiets their nervous system, promoting better sleep. However, some people have more success in their attempts to get to sleep if they take their last dose of medication earlier in the day. Be willing to tweak your medication cycle to get the best results.
In addition to regulating wakefulness, the hormone cortisol is also released during times of stress. If you are experiencing high levels of stress or coping with negative emotions, high cortisol levels may be disrupting your sleep. Check out these tips for controlling negative emotions.
How to Get to Sleep – Develop routines to
Make getting enough sleep a priority
Numerous scientific studies have proven that adequate sleep is essential for efficient functioning! One hour of sleep lost does NOT produce one hour of extra time for work or play!
One hour less sleep causes decreased effectiveness and efficiency. It leads to mental confusion, memory loss and reduced accuracy. One hour less sleep is very costly!
More sleep equals improved brain function. Improved brain function creates more efficiency and mental clarity. More mental clarity leads to better decisions, greater happiness and more success in all areas of your life.
Bed time ritual and routines
OK, so you’ve decided to make sleep a vital part of your vibrant life–style! Set up pleasurable routines to make getting to sleep easier. Use some of the tips in this section to craft your own – “I like getting ready for bed!” – routine and you’ll eagerly look forward to that part of your day. Being crafty about establishing new habits involves making them enjoyable.
- Read something you enjoy, but you’ve read before or journal about your thoughts
- Spend time acknowledging everything that went well during the day
- Practice gratitude for everything you have
- Engage in prayer or meditation
- Spend quiet time with cherished loved ones (even pets!)
Decrease cortisol levels
Relax your nervous system before bed with one or more of my favorite relaxation aids.
- Warm bath or shower
- Warm milk with a teaspoon of sugar and real vanilla extract
- Aroma therapy – Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or vanilla can be calming for many people who experience sleeplessness. Infuse the scent in the room, put in the bathtub, or just sniff it right from the bottle!
Food choices that make it easier to get to sleep
Everyone’s diet must be unique to their specific needs in order to be supportive of sleep. A few general guidelines can get you started, however. Be sure to keep track of your response to any change you make and “tweak as you go.”
Eat protein throughout the day. Increase your consumption of healthy omega 3 fats, found in the following foods: salmon, sardines, walnuts, avocados, olive oil and dark green leafy vegetables.
Reduce your consumption of processed carbohydrates such as bread and pasta. Choose non-refined carbohydrates – primarily legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits.
Control ambient conditions
Be sure your environment doesn’t irritate or stimulate your nervous system. Use a light dimmer switch to progressively lessen the light in the room for an hour before going to bed.
Get the best mattress, pillow, and covers for you. Some people respond well to weighted blankets that calm their nervous systems.
Experiment with sounds to find the one that works best for you. The “white noise” of a fan, soothing music, or nature sounds are good places to start.
Temperature is important too. Be sure it’s not too hot to sleep, or too cold to get out of bed!
Make waking up easier and enjoyable
For some people, it helps to take medication before getting out of bed in the morning and either sleeping for another 30 mins or just relaxing in bed. Taking medication before you get out of bed may make it easier to become alert enough to get up. Keep a glass of water and your medication by your bed. Set two alarm clocks – one to take your medicine, and one to get out of bed.
Have a routine you look forward to such as a quiet time for meditation or prayer, a relaxing breakfast with your loved ones, or an enjoyable exercise workout. Plan something you’ll be eager to get out of bed to do, and it will make getting up a lot easier!
Your own getting to sleep plan
Start by choosing one “don’t” and one “do” from the 10 tips above. Make small changes in your sleep approach and take note of the effects that occur. Remember to be kind to yourself when setting up new habits. Getting into a new way of thinking and acting takes time and persistence. Focus on your strides forward, not on any setbacks. Keep your eyes on your successes!
Now that you’re sleeping better you’ll want to focus on strategies for getting more done. Want some great tips for getting a handle on “boring” and “annoying” tasks so you can get control of your time and feel good about how much you accomplish? Download my free guide for better attention and concentration skills.
ADHD coach and board certified educational therapist. Dr. Kari, helps women conquer their biggest ADHD challenges. She assists women in getting focused, organized, and motivated. She helps them get unstuck, finish what they start, and accomplish more every day!
“This recording is so good that I am sleeping through the night, without waking for 4 hours, which I have not done for years.”