If you have ADHD, you already know how it can disrupt your focus during the day, but what about at night? You might find yourself doing more daydreaming than actually dreaming—or even showing telltale signs of sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
It’s not you: Sleep issues in adults with ADHD are incredibly common, says psychiatrist Susan Samuels, MD, of New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Research shows that people with ADHD experience sleep differently than those without it. For example, they spend less time in REM sleep, the time when people are at their deepest sleep and typically dream. They also don’t enter stage four sleep, which is a restorative phase of the night, and they tend to have more arousals in the night that cause them to wake up.
One theory is that adults with ADHD have a different circadian rhythm, which is your “body clock” responsible for many different body functions, including how you mentally and physically respond to daylight and darkness. Those with ADHD may have a delayed sleep-phase disorder, which means they often need to go to sleep later than usual and wake up later too. That could make functioning in a 9-to-5 work world particularly challenging.
If you have ADHD and getting quality sleep is hard for you, here’s some advice from Dr. Samuels.
Plan for 7-8 hours. Getting the right amount of sleep at night may actually reduce ADHD symptoms and improve your quality of life, according to the National Sleep Foundation, by giving you sharper focus for the day. Simply prioritizing sleep and aiming to give yourself a regular bedtime could have an impact.
Avoid stimulating activities before bed. As a general rule, give yourself a two-hour window before you need to sleep to make sure your brain has time to wind down. Say “no” to Netflix, big meals, or cat videos on YouTube during that window; instead, use that time to knock out boring, routine tasks like folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher.
Save your bed for sleeping. Once you get into bed, avoid the temptation to browse your phone or watch TV, or else your brain may start to associate your bed with these stimulating activities. (Here are more sleep hygiene tips to improve your quality of sleep.)
Avoid caffeine after lunch. This one’s obvious: That 4 pm cup of coffee may sharpen your mind for the rest of the workday, but it may keep you alert into the night when you’re trying to sleep. Instead, try chamomile tea in the evening, which is naturally decaf and has a soothing, mildly sedative effect.
Reset your internal clock. Expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning and dim the lights in the evening to help adjust your circadian rhythm and train your mind into an earlier bedtime.
Ask your doctor about medications or supplements. For example, restless leg syndrome affects around 44 percent of people with ADHD and can have a negative impact on sleep quality. Medicating for restless leg syndrome may improve your ability to doze off and get a full seven hours. Supplements of melatonin, a brain chemical involved in the sleep cycle, may help too. .
Consider a sedating, non-habit-forming antihistamine. Many people with ADHD find this OTC antihistamine helpful in falling asleep, but for others, it may cause extreme drowsiness in the morning and may not be best for everyone. As always, consult a doctor to find the right medication or supplement for you.