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  • Writer's pictureADHD: Bitesize

Waking Up Is So Very Hard To Do — How ADHD Affects Sleep

Many of us with ADHD have issues with sleep, and in turn, issues with sleep can affect ADHD. There are several different types of sleep disorders, many of which affect people with ADHD at higher than average rates.

Insomnia and Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder affect ADHDers far more than the general population; around 75% of people with ADHD suffer from one or both of these conditions.

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up in the morning affect around 75% of us with ADHD.

  • Insomnia: The inability to fall asleep at the right time, or periods of wakefulness during the night.

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: People with this condition fall asleep progressively later each night, and wake up progressively later each day, meaning it's almost always a struggle to fall asleep and wake up at the right time.

These sleep disorders not only cause drowsiness during the day, but also make ADHD symptoms such as irritability, impulsiveness, lack of inhibition, and poor concentration, much worse.

What Can We Do About It?

Thankfully, there are things we can try to help improve the quality of our sleep, with one of the most effective being to set up a bedtime routine.

A bedtime routine involves setting up a regular series of beneficial activities that promote restful sleep. The most important part is to stick with the same routine and at the same time each day, because your brain will start to associate these activities with going to sleep, allowing you drift off more easily.

Here are some things you can incorporate into your bedtime routine:

Try to go to bed (and wake up) at the same time each day. This will help set up your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, to allow you to sleep better. Even if it's hard at first, try to stick with it as much as possible.

Take a warm bath or shower. This will help your mind and body to relax, and ease away any aches and pains from the day.

Use aromatherapy oils. Many people find essential oils such as chamomile, lavender, or jasmine, very effective in helping them drift off to sleep. Use a diffuser, or mix a few drops with a teaspoon of coconut oil and rub onto your chest.

A diffuser is a great way to use calming essential oils to help you sleep.

Have a warm drink. Chamomile tea is a good choice as it's caffeine-free.

Eat a healthy snack. Having a large meal close to bedtime can cause sleeplessness, but a light, healthy snack will stave off hunger pangs and allow you to relax. Avoid chocolate or sugar, as it can be a stimulant.

Have some quiet time. Reading a book, meditating, deep breathing exercises, or listening to ambient music, white noise or nature sounds, can all help calm the mind before bed.

Have a comfortable sleep environment. Make sure the mattress and pillows are comfortable, and the room is cool and dark.

Avoid screens for a few hours before bed. If you must use them, many computers and phones now have a "bedtime" setting where the light shifts towards the red end of the spectrum; blue light can cause wakefulness.

Blue light from computer and phone screens can cause wakefulness.

Don't start a hyperfocused or energetic activity before bed. You mind and body will still be "on the go" when it's time to sleep. Try to keep the more active stuff in the first half of your day.

Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it causes restlessness and wakefulness during the night. Caffeine often has the effect of calming the ADHD brain, but it's also a diuretic. Trips to the toilet will cause a restless night, even if the caffeine won't. Nicotine is a stimulant, as well as being unhealthy for many other reasons, too.

Co-Occurring Sleep Disorders

There are other sleep disorders that frequently co-occur with ADHD:

  • Sleep Apnoea: A breathing problem which causes restless, interrupted sleep. Almost 1/3 of people with ADHD report breathing-related sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea.

  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: Sudden movement of limb(s) sporadically while sleeping.

  • Restless Legs Syndrome (Willis-Ekbom disease): Tingling sensation in the lower limbs causing the urge to move them. Only 2% of the general population suffer from this, but 50% of people with ADHD have it.

ADHDers also have more nightmares and parasomnias such as sleepwalking.

Nightmares are more common for people with ADHD, and can cause serious sleep disturbance.


If your sleep problems are seriously affecting you, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor if you haven't already. Whether or not they recommend other therapies to treat your sleep problems, setting up a bedtime routine will at least go some way towards you getting a better night's sleep.

Pleasant dreams!

Next Time

Join us again when we take a look at the basics of Bullet Journalling. Discover why this method is so popular and helpful for the ADHD brain, and learn how to get started on your ideal Bullet Journal in under an hour. See you then!

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