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Healthy Sleep For ADHD: Finding Balance and Improving Well-Being

For someone with ADHD, not getting enough sleep is not unusual. Yet sleep is so important for our general health and well-being. And a lack of sleep exacerbates ADHD symptoms, which in turn makes it harder to sleep.
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Healthy Sleep For ADHD: Finding Balance and Improving Well-Being

01/12/2022
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For someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), not getting enough sleep is not unusual. According to the Sleep Foundation, an estimated 25-50% of people with ADHD experience sleep problems; this figure could, in fact, be much higher. Yet sleep is so important for our general health and well-being. And a lack of sleep exacerbates ADHD symptoms, which in turn makes it harder to sleep. It’s a complex cycle to break, but there are methods you can use to improve your sleep and in turn, your general health and well-being. In this article, we unravel what makes it difficult for someone with ADHD to sleep and offer suggestions that may provide some relief.

Why does ADHD make it difficult to sleep?

ADHD can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up at the desired time. There is not one, but many different sleep difficulties and disorders linked to ADHD. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Short sleep duration
  • Increased nocturnal energy
  • Struggling to wake up (even after sleeping well)
  • Sleeptalking or sleepwalking
  • Narcolepsy
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)

Explanations linking ADHD and poor sleeping habits can be categorised as biological, behavioural and/or genetic. How To Fall Asleep With A Rowdy, Racing ADHD Brain has more information about the problems and causes of ADHD sleep issues. The good news is that by applying the right strategies, in most cases, sleep habits can be improved.

ADHD Sleep Strategies

If you experience sleep difficulties with ADHD, there are a few techniques listed below that you can try to improve your sleeping habits.

Keep A Sleep Diary

This is a really important first step in the process of tackling sleep difficulties. You need to record and detail as much information as possible about your sleeping habits. Do this at a set time every day to maintain consistency. A good time is when you first wake up as this is when you are most aware of how you slept.

First, record approximate sleeping and waking times and any nighttime wake-ups. Then make a note of your sleep environment and your activity the evening before. This might include the times of your last food and drink before bed, any screen time and anything else you did. Be sure to make a note of any significant events from that day or any ongoing issues you are dealing with that are on your mind.

Continue to diarise your sleeping habits and see if you can identify any patterns emerging over time. This is all about unpicking your sleep behaviour and finding out if there is anything that prevents you from getting a sound night’s sleep.

If you identify any patterns in your sleep behaviour, it’s worth trying to change your habits to see if there is any difference. We recommend using and adapting the following sleep strategies in a way that works for you.

There are many free online sleep diaries and sleep diary templates such as this one NHS Sleep Diary.

Assess Your Environment

Our sleeping environment is really important and we need to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible before trying to sleep in it. Optimising our sleeping conditions contributes towards good sleep hygiene. This takes time to get right and looks different for everyone.

This might mean wearing comfortable bedclothes, using bedding of the right thickness and sleeping in a room that is a suitable temperature. If you sleep best in the dark, you might need to invest in some blackout blinds or curtains or think about wearing an eye mask.

For some people, these environmental factors might be beyond their control, but it’s worth making suitable changes if you can.

What To Avoid Before Bedtime

We are not all stimulated by the same things, but avoiding the following close to bedtime may help you to sleep better:

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Exercise

  • All drinks after a certain time.

  • Screen time – this could be phone, TV, gaming etc. The light from devices may interfere with your sleep cycle.

  • Bright lights

Stick To A Set Routine

An ADHD brain needs routine to perform at its best. It’s important that your brain and body work together to a set daily routine. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or non-work/study days.

Don’t Nap To Catch Up

If possible, don’t nap during the day following a poor night’s sleep. More often than not, it just makes it more difficult to fall asleep again later at the normal time.

Eat Well And Exercise Well

Sleep, diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to make up the three main components of good physical health. If you can balance these three elements well, you will also be able to focus on your mental well-being and reach your full potential.

Calm Time Before Bed

Before you start getting ready for bed, try to do something that you find calming to wind down. This will help you to clear your mind of any thoughts that might prevent you from sleeping. If you’re someone who tends to be constantly active, this is particularly important. If you work long hours or study late into the night, make sure you have a cut-off time and stick to it. You might listen to calming music, take a bath, read a book or practise mindfulness.

Practise Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness is a great way to clear a racing mind and bring your focus back to the present moment. The techniques it employs are really useful before going to bed and it’s highly recommended as a treatment for ADHD. If you are familiar with the deep breathing associated with mindfulness, it’s an effective method to use if you are having difficulty falling asleep, either at bedtime or during the night if you wake up. Deep breathing helps to slow down both your body and your brain, allowing you to fall into a restful sleep.

At the ADHD Centre, we offer mindfulness coaching as part of our holistic treatment programme. We also have an online introductory mindfulness course. You can access the first lesson here for free.

Check ADHD Medication

Stimulant ADHD medication can disturb sleep patterns. If you think this might be happening, speak to your healthcare provider. You may need to adjust the dosage or take it at a different time. Melatonin is a hormone that is associated with sleep. Sometimes ADHD causes a delay in melatonin onset which can make it tricky to fall asleep. Your doctor may recommend melatonin supplements to help with this.

Be Realistic

When you try to change your sleeping patterns, you need to do it gradually and know that you’re unlikely to get great results immediately.

If you’re not a good sleeper, no matter what measures you put into place, there will be times when you simply don’t sleep well and you won’t be able to work out why. Sometimes you just have to accept that this happens and try not to overly worry about it.

We shouldn’t compare our sleep needs with other people. Some people can function perfectly well on very few hours of sleep every night, while some of us need a solid 8-9 hours.

There will be times when your sleep routine goes out of the window for many different reasons and you might sleep badly as a result. When this happens be kind to yourself and get back to practising good sleep habits when you can.

Ask For Help

If you’re struggling to monitor your sleep or go to bed when you should, find a friend or family member to help you. If you tell someone you’re going to be in bed before 1 am and ask them to check that you have done it, you’re more likely to do it. It might help you if someone else asks you about your sleeping habits or reminds you to do it.

If a lack of sleep is disrupting your life, make sure you seek professional help. You need to mention it in any appointments relating to ADHD and you may need to be referred to a sleep specialist. You might also consider signing up for a sleep study. It’s also really important not to let yourself get stressed due to worrying about how much sleep you are or aren’t getting.

Improving your sleep habits, (along with exercising and eating well) can be an effective natural way to control symptoms of ADHD and enhance your general well-being. It’s something you can easily test, change and adapt as part of your home routine. You just have to be prepared to take the time to thoroughly investigate what works best for you and find the right balance.

At the ADHD Centre, we offer ADHD assessments for both adults and children as well as a wide range of evidence-based treatments and therapies. To find out more about any of our services, please visit our website. You can also contact us directly by email at enquiries@adhdcentre.co.uk  or by phone 0800 061 4276

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