ADHD & Sleep Disorders

Monday, July 28, 2008

ADHD and sleep issues tend to go hand in hand. It seems a lot of people are finding it difficult to get the sleep they need. The key issue for those with ADHD is difficulty regulating alertness. The pace of modern society is overwhelming and we are constantly bombarded with information. It’s no wonder our distracted ADHD brains have trouble relaxing long enough for us to get the sleep we desperately need.

Research has shown that lack of sleep causes many disorders to become worse. Lack of sleep causes delayed reaction time and impaired vigilance making it just as bad or worse for drivers than alcohol. Unfortunately there is no law against driving while sleep impaired. Sleep deprivation also causes mood changes, impaired concentration, irritability, depression, fatigue, decreased motivation, hyperactivity, behavior problems, impulsivity, muscle aches, low stress tolerance, changes in appetite, frequent infections, and memory problems. All of your ADHD symptoms get worse when you don’t get enough sleep!

The irony with ADHD sleep issues is that it is a dual problem of both getting to sleep AND waking up from sleep. Those of us with ADHD have a tendency to get stuck in whatever level of activity we are in. We tend to be sleepy when we need to be awake and awake when we need to be asleep.

Many people with ADHD are ‘night owls’ and seem to prefer waking up late and staying up late. It is especially prevalent in those who have ‘no sense of time’ and are often running late and forgetting things because they only understand ‘now’ or ‘later’ as it relates to time. There is either plenty of time or not enough. The same seems to go with sleeping, you tend to get too much or not enough and regulating sleep can be difficult.

There are several issues that seem to happen to those with ADHD:

• Restless brain - Once the head hits the pillow the brain turns on and starts working overtime. It is common to take 30 minutes to an hour to fall asleep.
• Restless sleep – what sleep does occur is not always the restful, rejuvenating kind. It is common to toss and turn.
• Difficulty waking up – once sleep does take over it is extremely difficult to wake up. Even when you ‘wake up’ it can take quite a while for the brain to follow.
• Fatigue - There is also difficulty staying awake when the brain disengages and boredom sets in. Some people with ADHD report sudden extreme drowsiness and possibly falling asleep abruptly.

Now that we know the problem what can we do about it? There is no easy answer since everyone is different and thus there is no one size fits all remedy. The first thing to look at is your bed time habits. Do you need complete silence or do you need some sort of ‘white’ noise to block the brain chatter? Do you sleep better with an empty stomach or after a light healthy snack? Do you have a regular bedtime? It is helpful to have a set bedtime EVERY night so the body gets used to the habit of falling asleep at that time.

Other suggestions would be to use your bedroom only for sleeping and relaxing. You don’t want anything that will stimulate your brain activity when you are trying to fall asleep. If you usually read exciting novels in bed, pay bills or discuss your daily activities with your spouse right before you go to bed then it would be helpful to change those habits so they don’t disturb your ability to sleep at night.

Try using your ADHD medication to help you wake up in the morning. Set two alarms each morning, one being an hour earlier than you intend to wake up. When the first alarm goes off, take your daily ADHD medication and then go back to sleep until the second alarm goes off. By this time your medication should be working and you will find it much easier to get up and face the day.

You might also try the reverse method for getting to sleep. You will have to get your doctor’s permission to try this method since you will need an extra dose of medication each day. Since ADHD medications have a paradoxical effect of calming restlessness it helps some people to take a dose of medicine about 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This allows your brain and body fall asleep at the same time. Caffeine can also work but finding the right dose can be more difficult, especially since caffeine is a strong diuretic and too much can cause night waking.

It may take some time to find out what works for you but it will be well worth the effort to get a good night’s sleep.

By :Guest Author - Megan Dlugokinski


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