If you haven’t already ventured over to Part 1 of this sleep anthology, check it out if you want to understand the common issues around ADHD and sleep. I started there discussing what problems we encounter.
But the real question you may be wondering: Is it possible to get great sleep?
I want so badly for there to be an easy answer. I want to be able to tell you “just do these three simple things and suddenly you’ll sleep amazing every night!”.
I prefer honesty, and honestly, I think the ability for us to get our best sleep varies greatly night-to-night based on our living situation, medications, comorbidities, jobs, and physical disabilities and ailments.
I just don’t believe anyone can guarantee great sleep every night. Even under the most optimal conditions, the brain wants what it wants and sometimes that means insomnia.
However, I do believe you can try a few things starting today to get better sleep, and maybe improve it by a few inches!
Focusing on Sleep Itself
First up are a few tips for the actual process of getting to and staying in bed.
Keep in mind these are not quick fixes. If you’ve had trouble sleeping for years, it could be weeks of adherence to new strategies before they bring improvement, so patience and consistency are key. If you struggle with those things, use alarms, body doubling, and routine building to get there.
You may have seen many of these ideas before, but I’ve tried to get ADHD-friendly and hopefully included some new twists!
Associate Bed to Sleep, and Only Sleep
The header here really says it all: sleep in your bed and do nothing else.
The idea is that you want to build the association that bed is for sleep, only sleep, and trick your brain into being tired while you’re in it.
I recognize this might not be feasible for everyone because if you work from home, you may do it from bed. Or, part of your bedtime routine may be to read an hour before you go to sleep and the bedroom is the only quiet place to do it.
See if you can work/read or do activities from the other side of the bed. If you have a twin bed, sit at the foot of your bed. If you have a double bed, sit on the opposite side from where you normally sleep. It may at least help you associate sleeping with the action of laying down in the same spot each night.
If it’s been 45 minutes or more of laying in bed and trying to sleep and you’re not even a little bit tired, don’t keep forcing it because you’re building a negative association between bed and sleep. Get up and do something that might make you sleepy, like any part of your no-tech bedtime routine (see below).
Try a Stricter Sleep Schedule
Please don’t throw things at me for suggesting this.
Introducing a sleep schedule, meaning you go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, could be essential for an overall healthy sleep routine. It can help you fall asleep faster and wake up more rested.
The downside is that you have to keep the schedule every day, including weekends. I can’t stress enough that this strategy doesn’t work for most people if you only do it during your work week.
You may not love waking up at 7am on the weekends, but try to see the benefit that your sleep can improve, and sleep is so important for us to have good days!
If you want to try this, and you have your most trouble waking up, don’t start there. Start by enforcing the same bedtime nightly (use a 30-minute window for flexibility at first). You don’t have to fall asleep right away, and you might not the first couple of weeks, but get into bed and start trying at the same time every night. When this feels comfortable, then set your wake up alarm for the same time every day.
Build a No-Tech Bedtime Routine
I love routines, and I especially love my bedtime routine! Getting in the habit of doing the same things every night before bed can actually help your brain wind down, and be prepared for sleep, which may help you fall asleep faster. You’ll start to associate these activities with sleep, and may find you get drowsy doing them after just a couple weeks.
So, put your phone down (it’s blocking your melatonin production) and get into a routine that will promote sleepiness!
- Light stretching or yoga (you don’t want to energize yourself so keep it slow)
- Reading (a physical book, not an e-reader or your phone or tablet)
- Crossword puzzles, sudoku, word searches – any kind of puzzles, but again, in physical form
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Drink a cup of herbal tea or warm milk
- Snuggle your pet
- Write in a journal – write about your day, write poetry, write a song, write love letters
- Draw, sculpt, paint – any kind of art, but only the kind that makes you feel calm
The key is to find activities you can do for the hour-ish before bed that won’t make you feel so overstimulated that you can’t control your racing thoughts. But be careful not to go into a hyper-focused overdrive. Set an alarm or use a body double so your routine only lasts until bedtime.
Use Natural Remedies
If you’ve ever taken a sleeping pill like Ambien, you know they are intense. They work fast and aggressively to put you to sleep.
But, you might not be able to take sleeping pills or you might not be interested. Instead, there are some more natural remedies you can try.
I will state here that I’m not a doctor so this is not medical advice, and you should always talk to your doctor before taking a supplement to ensure it won’t be a harmful mix with your other medications.
Magnesium has been found in some studies to ease the effects of insomnia, and you might not be getting enough of it from your diet. You may be able to find magnesium supplements at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Be advised: The upper limit for magnesium supplements is 350 mg per day, and it’s suggested that you give your body a break from taking it every few weeks.
If you experience anxiety in the evening, lavender may be able to help calm you down and sleep. You can take a lavender supplement, spray it on your pillow, use a diffuser or add it to your evening herbal tea.
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally that tells your body when it’s time to sleep, but if you’re not producing enough on your own, you may be able to take a supplement 30-60 minutes before bed to promote drowsiness. Start with a low dose to find out how it affects you, then slowly build to what you need to get tired; higher doses don’t necessarily come with the benefit of being more effective. Like with magnesium, you should take a break every few weeks.
Do a Brain Dump
Hehehe I said dump.
If you’ve never done a brain dump, you may learn to love this exercise beyond just using it as a nighttime ritual. It’s super easy to do, here’s the steps:
- Find a piece of paper
- Jot down all your thoughts
Voila, a brain dump!
Keep in mind, there does not have to be any sense of organization in what you write. Just write the thoughts as they occur. You don’t have to make them connect and they don’t have to make sense.
This can be useful if your biggest problem at night is that you lie down and can’t seem to switch off your mind. You can use it before you fall asleep, or if you wake up in the night with racing thoughts.
Learn What’s Necessary
How much of the sleep that you get now do you need to feel rested?
If you currently experience poor quality sleep, you may need more than if you were getting good sleep. So, if it’s feasible, consider increasing the amount of sleep you get.
The average adult, with ADHD or not, needs 7-9 hours per night. If you’re getting 7 hours and feel tired, try increasing that a few nights in a row and see if it helps.
My only real trick to figure out how much sleep you need is to go 3-4 nights in a row with no alarm. Go to bed at the same time each of those test nights, and see how long you naturally sleep when you have no expectation of a specific time to wake up. Take the average and see how you feel with that much sleep.
I also invite you to consider that if it takes you 30-45 minutes to fall asleep, are you incorporating that into your schedule? Do you get into bed at 11 and expect to wake up at 7? Recognize in that scenario, getting into bed at 11 actually means falling asleep at 11:30 at the earliest, which means you’re only getting 7.5 hours of sleep at most, which might not be enough.
See a Somnologist
Formally called a Somnologist, a sleep doctor is someone who can diagnose and treat sleep disorders.
If you’ve tried everything possible and you’re still not sleeping, it may be time to seek professional assistance. You could have a sleep disorder that requires specialized treatment.
Talk to your primary care physician about your issues and they may be able to refer you to a Somnologist. Or, search for “sleep evaluations near me” or “sleep centers near me”, and you may be able to find a full medical practice that specializes in sleep.
Working on Wakefulness
Getting really good quality sleep can help you wake up and help you feel more alert throughout the day, but daytime sleepiness can strike at any time.
There are a few things you can do to promote wakefulness during the day. If you need to nap, try to squeeze it in before 1pm so it doesn’t disrupt your ability to sleep at night.
You may have heard of this for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but light therapy can also be useful in treating sleep disorders and their side effects.
Light therapy entails buying a special kind of light box (literally, most are shaped like a box) and sitting in front of it for a number of minutes or hours in the morning or evening, depending on the purpose.
Light therapy can be useful in promoting wakefulness throughout the day, and it’s also used to treat delayed sleep phase disorder. If you intend to use it to help you stay awake during the day and fall asleep earlier, then use your light first thing in the morning.
When choosing a light therapy box, ensure you buy one that filters UV light; if it doesn’t filter UV light, it’s likely a box made for treatment of psoriasis. UV light can be harmful to your eyes, and the light box should shine indirectly into your face.
Fidget Your Heart Out
Having a fidget handy may help you focus during a lecture, phone conversation, meeting or any scenario where you’re listening without actively participating.
Using the fidget to keep your focus may help prevent under-stimulation, which can cause sudden and extreme drowsiness.
Move Your Body
This may seem obvious, so I’ve really included it as a friendly reminder that you are neurodivergent. Your needs are different and you don’t always have to adjust your life to fit what’s considered neurotypical. It’s okay to adjust your life to fit your own inner workings.
If you have ADHD, sitting still might not come naturally or easily to you, and it might make you prone to drowsiness if you do it too long without something to keep your mind active as well.
If you don’t feel you will disturb anyone, keep yourself moving. Fidget, shift, cross/uncross your legs, crack your knuckles, stand up, pace around the room, stretch. Don’t force your body into stillness if that’s not what it needs at the moment.
Change Your Alarm Clock
If you hit snooze multiple times every morning, consider switching to an alarm clock that also has a light. The concept of this kind of alarm is to have you wake up more naturally to light that slowly gets brighter over 30 or more minutes.
This article from Health.com lists and reviews many options for light alarm clocks.
Alternatively, consider that if you turn off or snooze your alarm without fully waking up, it’s possibly too quiet or you’re used to the noise. Changing up your alarm sound weekly may help because an unfamiliar noise could get you up just a bit easier than an expected noise.
I really hope something here helps. I don’t recommend trying everything on this list all at once, but I also do believe it may take a combination of 2-3 new strategies to help you sleep better. So pick the low hanging fruit that you can start with this week and slowly add on more changes as the weeks go by.
If you’ve read this entire list and hate every idea on it, comment below or tweet using #GlitterBrainBlog and we’ll brainstorm new ideas together!