“How can I get a good nights sleep?”
“I can’t fall asleep. I toss and turn. My mind races.”
“I’m sleepy all day, then wide awake at bedtime.
“I’ve tried everything, but I’m wide awake in the middle of the night.”
Is Poor Sleep a Universal ADHD Challenge?
Those differences were most apparent to me when I sat down with 18 adults who shared their personal experiences for our series ADHD Medications: Straight Answers to Big Questions.
They span a wide range of ages and backgrounds, have a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity, and they have all different life situations–An E.R. Nurse, a medical student, an office worker, a lawyer. No one has all of the ADHD symptoms.
Do We Have Anything in Common? (Yawn)
And yet, at the beginning of ADDeep Sleep, our video about the secrets to good sleep, Dr. Roberto Olivardia reveals, “I don’t know anybody with ADHD, myself included, who doesn’t have an issue with sleep.”
Why do we struggle so? Why are so many of us wide awake in the wee hours, or raring to go when the world is winding down? As Dr. Annick Vincent points out in the video, sleep is like housework, it’s boring.
One of the core symptoms of this disorder is Hyperactivity. Or in adults, restlessness. A restless body. A restless mind. Roberto points out that Narcolepsy, Restless Leg Syndrome, and many other sleep disorders are much more prevalent among those of us with ADHD. That said, studies show the general population is also struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, and to wake up.
There are numerous reasons sleeplessness is a huge problem today. Smart phones. Video games. Busy lives. Constant change and stress in the workplace.
But it’s worse for us, and as Dr. Kathleen Nadeau explains, “The solution to sleep deprivation is to problem solve to get enough sleep… because that’s a very difficult thing for many adults.” It actually takes something to shut off the ADHD brain so it can recharge and process the day’s events.
A Double Dose of ADHD
It’s not just about being alert at work. As Kathleen points out, poor sleep “…impacts the frontal lobes of the brain almost like giving yourself a double dose of ADHD.
And you’re going to be very prone to be irritable, to lose your temper, to become more moody if you are chronically sleep deprived.”
In fact, one of the attractions for me when I left an interesting 9 to 5 job to go into comedy, was the appeal of starting my work day at 8:00 pm, when theatre lights dimmed and the curtain rose.
After the show we’d hit an all night diner. I’d crawl into bed at 2:00 in the morning, and even then sleep didn’t come.
Imagine my horror when I began working in television and someone told me “you have to be in the makeup room by 8:00 in the morning”!
Solutions? High-Tech & Low-Tech
You can tell that sleep is a big problem by the number of solutions that are on the market. Medication is one. Sleeping pills are a huge industry.
There are natural products like Melatonin, but they aren’t a long term solution. There are lots of interesting technologies and apps around.
For me, it’s been a matter of lifestyle changes. And I know they work.
Whereas I used to spend an hour or more lying in the dark listening enviously as my wife was off in slumber land, now, after understanding how my brain works, and making simple adjustments, I’m usually out cold in minutes, while she enjoys my snoring.
Routine is a big part of it as the experts explain. People with ADHD often love novelty. But the brain loves routine.
The Strategies Work! I Sleep Well!
A few weeks ago, we went on vacation. At the airport I bought a book of word puzzles for the flight.
There were hundreds of puzzles, so I continued solving them on the beach. And in bed at night. When we flew home I was still doing them.
Word puzzles became a new bedtime routine.
And it was bad.
An hour or two past my usual bedtime I was wide awake, mind racing, trying to figure out an 11 letter word for “Cheerful.”
Almost two weeks of late nights and sluggish mornings passed before it occurred to me why I was so tired every day–I was ending the day doing something challenging!
Puzzles. Little mysteries. Wracking my mind instead of resting my brain.
That night I avoided the puzzle book, and switched off the light knowing that it would probably take an hour or two for me to fall asleep now that I had disrupted my routine.
As I lay in bed, I thought about what Dr. Ari Tuckman says in ADDeep Sleep, it’s like an avalanche effect… and exercise and eating well… obviously… organizing… zzz …. effective… ZZZZZZ
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