Sleep and ADHD – A Well-known Balancing Act

Unfortunately, having sleep problems is the rule rather than the exception when living with ADHD (Wynchank et al., 2017). Perhaps you are one of those who find it difficult to unwind in the evenings, with thoughts constantly swirling around and around? Maybe you’ve never been able to establish sleep routines, or your inner restlessness simply prevents your body from relaxing enough to fall asleep. Some consume too much coffee or energy drinks too late in the day. Others are plagued by anxiety and rumination. And how fair is it that when you finally get into the flow of what you’re working on, you have to go to bed? Many with ADHD also report having shallow and fragile sleep, where the slightest noise or light can disrupt their much-needed rest. Regardless of the cause, it’s not great for the brain to miss out on proper quality sleep. Sleep deprivation often exacerbates existing ADHD symptoms (Floros et al., 2021 ), and daytime fatigue makes one even more vulnerable and sensitive to stress.

During periods of poor mental well-being, it can also be challenging to go to bed on time, unwind to fall asleep, or get up in the morning. As we have written in previous blogs , coexisting mental health conditions are much more common among both adults and children with ADHD compared to those without. Some experience restless and fitful sleep, while others use sleep as an escape or a way to avoid tackling overwhelming or anxiety-inducing tasks. Sleep is also clearly affected by hormonal factors, and during adolescence, when the risk of anxiety and depression in young women tends to be highest, many fall into vicious cycles of spending more and more time on screens and social media, which in turn takes away valuable sleep and recovery time. Even during perimenopause, sleep patterns can change, and some may become more sensitive to alcohol, room temperature, and occasionally find themselves wide awake the whole night without getting a wink of sleep.

But people have very different sleep needs. Perhaps you’re one of those who can get by on five hours of sleep? Or maybe you don’t feel like yourself if you don’t get your solid ten hours per night? Perhaps you sleep enough hours, but you never feel truly rested?

Here are some concrete and practical sleep hygiene tips from our Letterlife beta users. You’ve likely heard much of this before, and maybe you feel like you’ve already tried everything. But since sleep is so crucial for our well-being and functioning, it might be worth checking off all the tips on the list once more. Here’s what our users consider most important for achieving quality sleep despite ADHD:

  1. Be physically active outdoors and in daylight during the day, as even short periods of light and fresh air are good for sleep.
  2. Establish sleep routines and stick to them even if life around you change. If possible, go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day.
  3. Create an evening routine that you find cozy and soothing to wind down about an hour before bedtime. Dim the lights and take a warm shower, as the temperature change (your “core” temperature decreases while skin temperature increases) mimics what happens when we’re about to sleep.
  4. Avoid working or doing anything that “stimulates the brain,” such as checking emails, online shopping, or engaging in social media.
  5. Try sleeping with a weighted blanket. It can make it easier to relax and fall asleep.
  6. DO NOT nap during the day, no matter how rough your night was or how tired you are! If you must nap, never sleep for more than a power nap of 15 to 20 minutes.

If you want to read more about ADHD and sleep and get more tips, check out the book “ADHD Girls to Women- Getting on the Radar” and join Letterlife!

Sleep Tight!

/Team Letterife

  1. Wynchank D, Bijlenga D, Beekman AT, Kooij JJS, Penninx BW. Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Insomnia: an Update of the Literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Oct 30;19(12):98. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0860-0. PMID: 29086065.
  2. Floros O, Axelsson J, Almeida R, et al. Vulnerability in executive functions to sleep deprivation is predicted by subclinical attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2021;6(3):290-8.

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