Late night focus can be beneficial for people with ADHD — but it may also lead to sleep problems and other concerns.
Having difficulty focusing is one of the most common signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If you live with ADHD and have a hard time getting focused, it could negatively affect your ability to get your work done during the day — which is when many folks are expected to get things done.
As a result, adults with ADHD may become night owls, finding that they focus better during later hours.
There’s little to no research to show whether folks with ADHD are more focused at night, but some mental health experts offer possible explanations.
Different work styles
ADHD is a mental health condition that may directly affect work styles and habits.
Jon Tomlin EdD, a licensed professional counselor and therapist in Pennsylvania, says people with ADHD often prefer to work in “concentrated, very productive chunks of time with long breaks in between.”
Working in time chunks throughout the day could mean doing some work early on and then later in the day or at night.
For example, working adults may need to:
- answer calls, texts, and emails
- schedule appointments and meetings
- take care of kids, partners, and family members
- chat with friends and co-workers
- do chores
- prepare meals
- balance other daily responsibilities
“This flooding of stimuli makes sustaining attention and focus, which is already a challenge, even more challenging,” explains Paul Poulakos, DO, a board certified psychiatrist in New York and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
For many people, nighttime is usually associated with fewer disturbances. This makes it an ideal time to get things done, especially for those with ADHD who may naturally have a hard time focusing.
A tendency to procrastinate
Poor time management skills may also play a role in an individual’s inability to focus.
“Since procrastination is [another] very common feature of ADHD, there’s also the added pressure that one is faced with at night to complete tasks that were put off throughout the day,” Poulakos says.
Poulakos cautions that putting off tasks until nighttime can lead to sleep issues such as:
- delayed sleep
- sleep deprivation
- possibly disrupting your circadian rhythm
In addition, people with ADHD experience challenges with executive functioning, including the ability to focus and complete tasks, which may be more likely to occur when a person is sleep-deprived.
Also, working late hours may potentially exacerbate or worsen ADHD symptoms like executive dysfunction.
Tomlin says individuals with ADHD require more sleep and have more irregular sleep habits than those without this condition.
“Sometimes people with ADHD are ‘slow risers’ (not morning people) and need to build energy toward tasks in the morning and night,” Tomlin says.
He adds that sleeping in too late or not getting enough sleep can also become problematic by:
- causing the person with ADHD to become nocturnal
- leaving little time or energy for errands or socializing the next day
- hurting daytime productivity
If you live with ADHD, you may benefit from working at night when your ability to focus is higher.
For example, you might finish tasks easier or faster than you would during the day when you’re more distracted or stimulated.
Tomlin offers the following tips for making the most of this focused time to get things done as healthily as possible:
- avoid social media and aimless scrolling
- remove clutter from your workspace
- set an agenda for the evening of what you’ll accomplish and how
- choose a timeframe meant just for work
Minimizing potential distractions is key to productivity.
“Those with ADHD can sometimes be sidetracked with other interests, but once they start focusing, they can finish a task quickly,” Tomlin says.
Poulakos adds that making an effort to be proactive versus postponing tasks to the last minute may also be helpful.
“Acknowledge that nights are your most productive time of day and utilize them to plan and/or complete tasks that aren’t due in the immediate future but those that you’d like to complete within the next few days,” Poulakos says.
After a long night of work, it’s important that folks with ADHD also practice good sleep hygiene to get some much-needed shut-eye.
“For an individual with ADHD who feels most productive at night, it’s important to adapt due to the challenges and disruptions that late-night productivity can create,” Poulakos says, adding that the following tips may help promote rest:
- avoid caffeine intake later in the day
- reserve the bed for sex and sleep (not work)
- set a clear bedtime routine and try to stick to it
- stop all screen time at a designated hour
- leave your cellphone in another room
Tomlin suggests the following tips to help promote relaxation:
People with ADHD may find it difficult to get their work done during the day due to endless distractions that may hinder their ability to focus. As a result, they may find they’re more productive when they work at night.
But nighttime productivity can come at a cost and may lead to sleep issues that affect your ability to work and function during daytime hours.
To maximize your focus at night without affecting your sleep quality, try minimizing digital distractions, setting to-do lists, and turning off your devices by a certain hour. If you’re still wired by bedtime, yoga, meditation, or other relaxation practices may help you wind down.
And if your inability to focus is disrupting your career, sleep, or life, you may wish to seek help from a mental health professional.