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Can't Sleep? Me Too! Why Can't I Get to Sleep?


My wife and I attended two large ADHD conferences that were about a month apart, and were were able to interview some great experts

One of the topics that came a lot was sleeplessness.

Poor sleep.  The ADHD adult as a ‘Night Owl.’ Sound familiar?

The result of these interviews, and some of the interviews we had already done before them, are assembled into two cool videos:  Why Can’t I Sleep (below) and a full length video ADDeep Sleep.

Why Can’t I Fall Asleep?

The experts we sat down with (who have ADHD themselves) talked about the challenges of a mind that is coming awake as everyone else in the world is nodding off, fading away, and heading off to slumber land.

Dr. Roberto Olivardia talked about a sleep study he took part in that showed that his brain actually is waking up at 10:00 at night. 

Which worked well for him at Medical School and in being able to work without distraction because most of the world has shut down.  (This was before the constant thrumming of the Internet.)

It works less well now that he is a father, a husband, and a doctor with clients.

As he described how he struggles, I nodded. And nodded.  And nodded.

“Yep. I know that one.”

It’s like the Sleep Fairy is sprinkling magic dust over most people, and sprinkling some kind of stimulant over the rest of us, the adults with ADHD.


I was surprised to learn that adults with ADHD suffer from higher rates of various sleep disorders like Restless Legs Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.   

That last one, as Dr. Kathleen Nadeau explained, is the fancy scientific term for being a ‘Night Owl.’

The ability to stay up late and be ‘on’ is one of the reasons I got into show business.

Live theatre works for someone who is at their best in the evening. Or, if not their best, their second best.  (The other time we tend to be at our best and most productive is first thing in the morning.)

So while other people were settling down in their theatre seats to enjoy an evening of comedy, we performers were back stage, revving up. 

In fact, I often went through a severe dip in energy starting at about 4:00 pm and running till about 7:00 pm.  I’d be drained, head nodding, my brain a wad of sludge, feeling slightly ill. 

Time and again I was convinced I was coming down with something and I’d brace myself for the possibility that I’d be sick during the show.

What’s the shortest route to the washroom if I’m nauseous?

Then as I slouched in my dressing room, or in the green room, head lolling, the stage manager would pass by, “One hour to curtain, people. One hour.”  My body would start to rally.

By time the Stage Manager called out, “Five minutes to curtain. Places please!”  I was grinning, eager, hopping from foot to foot, itching to go. 

The dread had turned to excitement, anticipation, laced with just enough stage fright to keep me sharp.

Loved it.


Patrick McKenna, who went through the Second City system, experienced the same thing. 

What’s interesting is that after the main show had ended, around 10:00, there would be a break, and then the performers would come back and do another hour or more of improv. 

Which requires the most focus. You have to be alert, listening, and ready to boogie with whatever the other actors said.

At the end of the show the audience left satisfied and spent.

But I was always ready to do another show.  And I was ravenous.  We’d end up in a deli eating bagels and cream cheese and Caesar salad until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.  Asleep by 3:00, up at noon…. It was great.

Sleep Strategies for ADHD


So you can imagine my shock when I started doing television

Up at 6:30 a.m.  In makeup at 8:00 or 8:30.  Going until 6:00 or 7:00 at night.  Since I was always both a writer and a performer of the TV shows, and often also the director and producer, it was a dramatic shift.

How did I shift from one to the other?  How did I move from a live theatre schedule to a TV schedule?

Basically, I didn’t.  I stopped doing live theatre mostly.

As well, the first TV series I did coincided with the birth of my first child.  Which disrupted life’s routines and schedules more than work ever did.  So I had to let go of what felt ‘natural.’

What’s interesting now is that I have learned some techniques to get myself to sleep very quickly.  In fact, it’s rare that Ava falls asleep before I do.

What are those techniques?

Computer and cell phone off.  No exciting TV shows after 10:30.  Reading a book that’s interesting but not thrilling.  (No Stephen King.  No Game of Thrones.  No murder mysteries.)

As the 6 experts in ADDeep Sleep explain, there are routines you can follow, and also physical changes you can make to your environment to make sure your brain is being told, “Prepare to go Sub Warp Speed.  Prepare for down time.”

If you’re struggling with sleep, ADDeep Sleep explains why your brain doesn’t want to go beddy-bye when society says you should, and what you can do to fall asleep faster and actually sleep better.

Because, as Dr. Annick Vincent says in the video, “Sleep is boring.”   But lying in bed, and not sleeping is not just boring, it’s frustrating.  To the point of exhaustion. 

Alas, exhaustion without sleep, without replenishing, without feeling refreshed. It feels like a waste of time.  “Great, 7 hours and I don’t feel better.”

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  1. ADD-ME June 20, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    This is so me! My kids called me a vampire because I was up alnight. I just wasn’t able to even go to bed when I tried. Just one more thing to do and then it was 3 o’clock am.I couldn’t understand where the time went!!!!!!—-Now I know—It’s ADD time!! But I,m still a vampire—-can’t get to sleep!!

  2. sdwa June 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    When I was in high school, my typical pattern would be to stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM reading, sleep for four hours, get up and go to school, then come home and go back to sleep until about 7:30 in the evening. I still feel least able to function between 2:00 – 5:00 PM. And can’t sleep at night when I want to. Rather than adapt to the way the rest of society does things…I think they should be the ones to change. ;)

  3. kandrz June 21, 2013 at 2:40 am

    So I’m reading this at 1136pm, while laying in bed using my iPad. I’m afraid to turn it off.

  4. craigs June 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Sleep is boring. Brilliant! Boring must be my favorite word. I never linked my tendency to be a night owl to my ADD. I don’t have trouble sleeping – once I get to sleep. I sleep like a log. I have trouble getting into my bed. Just like you Rick I go into the late afternoon doldrums and start perking up by 7. At bedtime (10pm) I’m firing on all cylinders and raring to go. I wish I was like that at work! Thanks for this post – I need to check out the movie……sometime.

  5. anniea July 16, 2013 at 3:25 am

    AAAaaaa get a night job of course…
    My Mom was a night owl, and I would stay up with her when I was in High School.. fast forward several years and I am working nights on the railroad…
    fast forward again several more years and I am working nights as a nurse… THEN I got a day job as a nurse… OMG!! UUUGGGHHHH… then I got diagnosed with ADD.. PHEw.. Still too hectic for me… so I am trying to find my niche again. Self employed? Or back to nights again for a while.. I don’t mind sleeping in the day as long as the dogs or kids will let me.. and I don’t need my Ritalin as much as night cause nothing but me and a client.
    Also, I have a bedtime routine that helped like crazy during the dayshift days.. and I use it to go to be in the morning too.. Hot choc, meds, and Calms’ Forte for times I have to sleep sooner than later.. Life is good..

  6. wildweeder November 6, 2016 at 1:58 am

    Oh that 4pm-7pm slog… Can’t count the times I’d have to get up early, feel exhausted, then REALLY exhausted from 4-7, telling myself “That’s good – I’ll be able to get to bed early tonight,” only to perk up around 8:00, get started on something, loose track of time, and next thing you know, it’s after midnight AGAIN!
    When I worked evening shift (3:00pm to 11:30pm) it worked great because I could sleep until 11:00am.
    When our son was a baby, being married to an early bird was great – I handled everything until 2-3 in the morning, then I would fall asleep like a log, and hubby would wake up for anything baby needed after 4am. Thankfully, son slept well between 2 and 4am!

  7. batgirl November 7, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    I’m the opposite of a night owl. I’m that really annoying personality night owls love to hate…THE MORNING PERSON. I have a hard time staying asleep past 5:30- 6 am. I get really excited if I manage to stay in bed until 7 am on weekends. And when I wake up, I’m UP and ready to roll. In fact I do my best (procrastinated) work in those early morning hours when the rest world is still sleeping. If I know I have a paperwork/reports due the next day I won’t even attempt them the evening before, because I know I can fire it off easy/peasy the next morning when my brain is on fire! Mind you, I am a fan of afternoon naps whenever possible, and I stop functioning properly after about 7pm. But I do struggle with falling/ staying asleep at night, even when I’m dead ass tired. My mind just churns. I’ve gotten into the habit of falling asleep with the tv on because for some reason that background noise helps my mind rest so I can sleep. Problem is I have to keep it on, all night. I’ve tried setting it to a timer so it shuts off after an hour or so… but the moment the noise stops I wake up. I’ve heard about alternative “white noise” recordings. Has anyone had luck using those?

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