If you or someone you love has ADHD, you know just how many areas of everyday life can be affected. In addition to the hallmark challenges of focusing at work or school, the majority of people affected by ADHD face irregular sleep patterns. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), three out of four children and four out of five adults with the condition also struggle with some type of sleep disorder.
So what causes those with ADHD to have such a hard time sleeping? Experts mostly point to the hyperactivity component of the condition, which can also manifest as fidgetiness, difficulty sitting still, and talking excessively or over others. Hyperactivity can also make it extremely difficult to wind down at night if the body and mind continue to race instead of quieting in preparation for sleep.
Some of the most common sleep disorders associated with ADHD include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, a type of sleep-disordered breathing in which muscles surrounding the throat relax and block airways
- Restless legs syndrome, a neurological condition that causes discomfort when the legs are at rest
- Circadian-rhythm disorders, in which the body’s natural sleep patterns misalign with nighttime hours
For people with ADHD, the loss of sleep can be detrimental. Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function, further impacting the ability to pay attention. In children, the implications can be long-term, potentially leading to impaired brain development.
Thankfully, there are ways individuals with ADHD can do to try and maintain healthy sleeping habits. We’ve compiled science-based tips from the top doctors and ADHD experts to help you regain control of your sleep cycle and get the rest you deserve.
Not everyone experiences sleep disturbances caused by ADHD in the same way. For some people, problems start around bedtime with trouble getting to sleep. Some may have issues waking up in the middle of night with racing thoughts. Others have issues rolling out of bed in the morning to start the day on time. Of course, it’s also common to encounter some combination of these since each directly impacts the other.
Before we get into the specific ways to address ADHD-related sleep issues, let’s look at exactly how ADHD may be wreaking havoc on your nightly routine.
Poor Sleep Latency
If you or your child has ADHD and struggles to fall asleep at night, you’re not alone. A Harvard study found that difficulty falling asleep is one of the most common sleep problems for those with the disorder. In children, this is often observed as resistance to set bedtimes.
As you might guess, ADHD medication can be a huge factor in insomnia. While these stimulants are designed to keep you focused during the day, the effects can sometimes last longer than intended and trickle into the night. One study showed that a third of children taking stimulants to treat ADHD showed signs of nightly insomnia, three times the rate of insomnia in untreated children with the disorder.
But medication isn’t the only thing that can keep you awake at night. Research also links ADHD to excessive sleepiness during the day. While a quick afternoon nap might seem like the perfect solution, it can actually prevent you from being tired enough to fall asleep at your normal bedtime later that evening. Specialists recommend afternoon naps to last only twenty minutes.
On the other hand, if your racing mind seems to be the issue at play, remember that ADHD and anxiety often go hand in hand. Around a third of children and half of adults with ADHD are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As such, the combination of the two can make it even more difficult to obtain a quality night’s rest.
Poor Quality Of Sleep
Once you do manage to fall asleep, ADHD can interfere with the quality of the rest you get during the night. A sleep study that recorded its subjects’ movements concluded that those with ADHD are more likely to toss and turn during the night. Not only can this impact your ability to get a full night’s rest, if you share your bed with a partner, it might be keeping them awake, too.
ADHD is also linked to higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that can cause you to repeatedly stop breathing at night. Sleep apnea forces your body to continuously wake up and prevents you from reaching the deepest, most important phases of the sleep cycle.
Having Trouble Waking Up In The Morning
If you can’t fall asleep or have trouble getting a good night’s rest, chances are you won’t be ready to jump out of bed when your alarm goes off. This simply perpetuates the cycle. Those who force themselves to face the day with the limited sleep they managed to get may see a worsening of their ADHD symptoms including difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, and increased meltdowns among children.
25 Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Those With ADHD
Ready to take control over your sleep schedule? These tips, tricks, and tools are gathered from the world’s leading experts on ADHD-related sleep disorders.
Tips For Better Sleep
1. Sleep in a quiet, comfortable room
Keeping in mind that those with ADHD have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, try to eliminate as many environmental factors that might perpetuate the issue as possible.
Half an hour before going to bed, check the room’s temperature to make sure it’s not too hot or cold. Invest in a comfortable mattress and curtains to block out exterior light sources. Try to keep the room as quiet as possible; a white noise machine may be a worthwhile purchase.
2. Set your phone to do not disturb
We know it’s tempting to check your phone before bed, but science shows that the blue light emitted by electronics can affect your sleep cycle. Put your phone into do not disturb mode at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime to silence notifications. Not only will this eliminate temptation before you fall asleep, it will also prevent your phone’s chiming from waking you up due to an untimely late-night message.
3. Don’t take medication too late in the day
Many stimulant medications can last for 10 to 12 hours, so make sure not to take them (or give them to your child) too late in the day. Since every medication works differently, it’s a good idea to discuss timing for your individual treatment plan with your doctor.
Once you’ve established a routine that works, set an alarm for the same time every day to make sure you don’t forget. Ask your doctor about prescribing a shorter-acting alternative to keep on hand in case you do miss a scheduled dose.
4. Avoid daytime naps
We know how tempting it is to shut your eyes for a few minutes after getting a poor night’s sleep. While the occasional nap might not be the end of the world, making a habit out of it will only worsen chronic insomnia.
Try to avoid sleeping during the day as much as possible. If you do need a nap once every blue moon, keep it under 20 minutes and don’t take one after 3:00 p.m.
5. Try meditation
While the idea of sitting still for extended periods of time might sound impossible for someone who struggles with ADHD, it might not be as difficult as you’d imagine. Meditation has been shown to improve inattentiveness, impulsivity, and social problems in both adults and children with the disorder.
Setting aside 20 minutes before bed to close your eyes and focus on your breathing can help you relax and fall asleep faster. With regular practice, doctors say, you’ll have an easier time tapping into that sense of relaxation and getting back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night.
6. Sleep alone
If you live with your significant other, chances are you share a bed at night. But data shows that adults who sleep with their partner get statistically worse sleep – and that’s not even taking ADHD-related sleep problems into consideration. Sleeping in separate beds, at least during the week, can actually improve relationship quality by helping both individuals feel well-rested and happy.
Children with ADHD who share a room with siblings also risk being woken up more frequently (and disrupting their brother or sister’s sleep.) If moving your child into their own room isn’t feasible, look into a room divider or curtain to offer better privacy.
7. Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep
There’s no benefit in staring at the ceiling for hours when you can’t fall asleep. The Mayo Clinic suggests getting out of bed if you aren’t asleep within 20 minutes of your head hitting the pillow. Your best bet is to go into another room and find something quiet to do until you feel tired.
Just remember not to switch on the TV or check your phone – the type of light emitted from their screens will only keep you awake longer. Instead, try reading a book, meditating, or drinking a glass of water.
8. Keep a consistent routine
Your body likes routines, so try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even if it’s tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, don’t let your routine slip. Staying consistent with your schedule will make it easier for your brain to recognize when it’s time to fall asleep.
Routines are particularly crucial for children with ADHD as they help kids predict what’s coming next and feel more in control of their day. Try creating a visual schedule that depicts bedtime routines (like bath time, brushing teeth, and lights out) and post it in your child’s room where they can see it.
9. Discuss sleep with your doctor
If you’ve tried all of the previous steps and are still having trouble falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor. You may need to adjust your stimulant medication or add a sleep aid to help your body achieve better rest.
Tips For Better Mornings
10. Set two alarms
Let’s face it – most of us hit snooze once or twice before getting out of bed in the morning. But for people with ADHD, those stolen minutes of sleep can be the first domino that throws off the entire day’s schedule.
If you know you need a few extra minutes between the time your first alarm goes off and your feet hitting the floor, give yourself some wiggle room. Set a second alarm 20 minutes before your normal wakeup time so you won’t feel rushed or groggy.
11. Take your medication early
Depending on which ADHD medication your doctor prescribes, it may take 30 to 45 minutes or longer to become effective. Make sure to take your medication early enough that you’re ready to be productive when the day begins, whether that’s school, work, or important daily tasks.
12. Start your day with exercise
The proven benefits of daily exercise include better brain function, lower risk of disease, and longevity. Research has also shown that exercise can play a vital role in managing ADHD for both adults and children. Try incorporating exercise into your morning routine to improve alertness and stay more focused throughout the day. Even a 10-minute walk counts!
13. Let in some sunlight
For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors didn’t have clocks or alarms to tell them when it was time to wake up. Instead, they relied on the sun – and our brains are now evolved to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin when exposed to morning sunlight.
To tap into your biological wiring, open the curtains as soon as you’re awake and turn on the lights in your home. You’ll start feeling more alert in no time.
14. Take a morning shower
Taking an early shower is a given if you’ve chosen to start your day with exercise. But even if morning sweat isn’t your thing, a shower can be a great way to wake up both your body and mind.
Pro tip: some people who take ADHD stimulant medication like to do so right before getting in the shower. By the time you’re clean, the medication should have kicked in and you’ll be ready to begin the day’s tasks.
15. Prepare the night before
Mornings aren’t the best time to run around trying to get organized. Keep chaos at bay by preparing as much as possible the night before: laying out clothes, preparing lunches, and leaving yourself a to-do list for the day.
16. Don’t oversleep on weekends
If you don’t need to be up for work or school on the weekends, it might be tempting to sleep the day away. Unfortunately, you may pay the consequences when you aren’t tired enough to fall asleep at your set bedtime. Try to stick to your normal schedule as closely as possible to avoid trouble once Monday arrives. It is important to pay attention to your natural circadian rhythm.
Helpful Tools And Apps
Children with ADHD tend to respond well to visual cues and set routines. Brili is an app geared towards families with children to help manage tasks for every day of the week. Create and manage schedules for mornings, bedtime and weekends, with each task depicted by a kid-friendly image. Your child will receive voice prompt reminders and rewards when tasks are completed on time. The app is available for Apple and Android devices.
Looking for a scheduling system that doesn’t rely on a screen? SchKIDules is a visual routine tool that comes in magnetic or Velcro form. The board is divided into morning, afternoon and nighttime activities. It comes with visual cards for every task and chore your child needs to complete. Simply attach the cards to the board in the order they need to be done, then place a star below each one as your child completes them.
Digital calendars are a dime a dozen, but few help you become more productive. Calendar is a smart scheduling tool that lets you not just plan your day, but see how you spent your time and find ways to improve it. Shared calendars make it a great solution for individuals and families alike.
Goally helps neurodiverse children, including those with ADHD, become more independent using behavioral science techniques. The standalone device, designed for kids between the ages of four and 12, doesn’t contain any other functions. This eliminates distractions that might pop up when using an app on a share device that also holds games, videos and social media platforms. Parents can control what their child sees on the Goally device through their own smartphone app.
21. Happy Kids Timer
Children with ADHD struggle to focus on tasks, which makes chores take longer and seem overwhelming. The Happy Kids Timer chores app turns these dreary daily routines into fun games, guiding kids through every step of their daily tasks as they collect rewards for completing them on time.
A monthly subscription from Tiimo can help you stay on track throughout the day with reminders when it’s time to begin a new task. The app, which is available for Apple and Android devices, features visual timelines of each item on your calendar to prevent you from spending too long on one item.
Wondering if poor sleep quality could be the underlying cause of those groggy mornings? SleepScore is an app that breaks down your sleep cycle and gives you a score based on six different factors. Use the results to pinpoint where you need to make improvements and track progress over time.
For those with ADHD, sitting still to meditate for 20 minutes might sound like the opposite of relaxation. The Headspace app gives you the option to meditate for as few as three minutes – and eventually build up the duration of your sessions over time. You’ll even find specific meditations for sleep.
25. Sleep Cycle
If you find it much easier to get out of bed some mornings than others, it may be due to the sleep cycle phase you’re in when your alarm goes off. Sleep Cycle aims for a gentler wakeup call. The app detects your movements throughout the night, waiting to nudge you awake until you’re in the lightest stage of sleep.