Sleep problems are common for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But there are ways to improve your sleep.
Adults with ADHD can experience a number of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
After a night of restlessness and lack of sleep, adults may also experience daytime sleepiness or trouble waking in the morning.
Not getting enough sleep can affect your:
- ability to pay attention
- quality of life
Chronic sleep problems can lead to other bigger problems, such as high blood pressure.
If you are living with ADHD and having trouble sleeping, you might notice trouble at work and home, in your relationships, and even while driving. But there is good news. Some tips might help you get more restful sleep.
An estimated 75% of children and adults with ADHD have sleep problems. Some common ones include:
- Problems falling and staying asleep. About 43-80% of adults with ADHD report having trouble with insomnia.
- Restless sleep. Once they’re able to fall asleep, many report a restless night of sleep, filled with tossing and turning. Restless sleep was actually listed as a characteristic of ADHD in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
- Difficulty waking. Many with ADHD wake up multiple times during the night. When they finally fall asleep in the early morning, they might have a hard time rousing themselves from sleep.
- Intrusive sleep. This occurs when the person becomes bored or loses interest in an activity. Sometimes the abrupt disengagement causes sudden extreme drowsiness to the point the person falls asleep wherever they are.
Researchers aren’t quite certain why people with ADHD often have sleep problems. But there are many theories as to why this might happen. One is that symptoms of ADHD make it hard to shut down thoughts at night.
Another is that people with ADHD often are more alert at night, causing them to stay up later. Other possible causes include:
- caffeine and stimulant ADHD medications
- other coexisting conditions such as anxiety or depression
- breathing disorders such as sleep apnea and snoring
- restless legs syndrome
Researchers believe that changes in circadian rhythms – our 24-hour internal clocks that respond to light and dark – might play a role in sleep problems in people with ADHD. It’s also believed that a delay in the onset of production of melatonin may also be a cause.
No matter the cause, sleep problems can lead to a cascade of other health complications, including:
- heart disease
Not everyone with ADHD has trouble with sleep. Researchers are still exploring the connection between ADHD and sleep, and why some individuals find it easier to sleep than others.
Although the relationship between sleep and ADHD is complex,
Sleeping during the day and restless night sleep can result in daytime irritability, which might also disturb concentration.
These challenges can affect the person with ADHD and their families.
Consider talking with your doctor about your sleep problems. Some sleep disorders might be a result of medication, and adjusting the dose or changing the medication can make all the difference.
If you want to try sleep medications or over-the-counter supplements, such as melatonin, consider reaching out to your doctor to see if they are right for you.
You can also try the following self-care strategies to improve your quality of sleep.
Improve sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene includes habits that promote restful sleep, such as:
- turning off gadgets a few hours before bedtime
- having a fixed time for sleep every day
- avoiding stimulants like caffeine before bedtime
- sleeping far away from devices
Exercise before bedtime
Depending on what’s available to you, exercise can help promote better sleep. It’s generally encouraged to exercise during the day.
However, you can determine what works best for you based on your schedule and lifestyle.
Try relaxation techniques
Consider adding some relaxation techniques to your bedtime routine. Some strategies include:
- deep breathing exercises
- relaxing sounds
- taking a warm bath
- dim the lights (use soft lighting such as candles)
Avoid stimulating activities
Instead of watching TV or scrolling social media, try some nonstimulating tasks such as:
- doing laundry
- cleaning dishes
- putting out clothes for the next day
- packing lunch
- reading a book
If certain conditions help you fall asleep faster, take note of them.
For example, does a nighttime shower help you sleep easier? Or does reading a book do the trick? Knowing this can help you develop useful sleeping patterns.
Schedule your naps
For some people, power naps in the afternoon give them a boost of energy and help them stay alert for the rest of the day. For others, afternoon naps might make them feel sluggish or hinder their sleep at night.
Experiment with your nap times, and make a note of what works best for you.
Control your climate
Most people find that a cooler room creates a more restful environment and welcomes sleep. Others might find that a warm, cozy bed is better for them.
Try different environments to figure out the one that will work better for you.
Avoid lying awake in bed
If you’ve been trying to sleep for more than 20-30 minutes and you’re still awake, consider getting up. Move around. Lying in bed waiting for sleep might not be helpful.
Try a nonstimulating activity to help you calm down and prepare your mind and body for sleep. Wait until you feel sleepy again before going back to bed.
If you’re having trouble sleeping and you have ADHD, there are resources that might help.
The ADHD Coaches Organization directory can connect you with an ADHD coach who’s right for you. You can even choose the speciality for the type of coach you need.
If you want to connect with other adults living with ADHD, try the CHADD online community. Sometimes finding someone having similar experiences can give you ideas that will work for you, too.
ADDitude Magazine has Mobile Apps for Better Sleep, which may help you get a more restful sleep.
Sleep problems are a common feature in adults living with ADHD. These experiences can vary from mild to severe.
In some cases, sleep disorders – such as insomnia – can greatly affect every aspect of your life, often interfering with work, school, and relationships. Also, poor sleep can worsen your symptoms.
If you live with ADHD, it’s important to remember that these sleep disruptions are no fault of yours. And you do not have to wait to reach out for help.