ADHD + Sleep Struggles

Hello friends,

I've had difficulty with sleep for as long as I can remember.

As a kid, I often stayed up late reading in bed. Sometimes using the light in the hall or—if my parents caught me and turned off the light—with a flashlight hiding under the blanket. I just never really felt tired, so I stayed up reading book. In turn, I was always late waking up in the morning, alarms never making much difference.

Even as I got older and knew how important sleep was, I still couldn't seem to get myself to sleep at a reasonable hour. As others got sleepy, I was just getting my second wind for the night.

I just never really feel tired until 2-3am, and sometimes not even then. I used to think I was just a night owl, but it's not that I prefer to stay up late.

It feels like I don't have a choice.

I've tried several times to make myself into a morning person, but it always fails miserably. My body just does not want to go to sleep when it should.

It turns out this is incredibly common among those with ADHD. This delayed sleep pattern is called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), and some studies claim that 70-80% of those with ADHD also have DSPS. It's just what it sounds like—your sleep phase is delayed by several hours compared to a more typical sleep schedule. It's difficult to fall asleep if you go to bed "on time" (according to that typical sleep schedule), so you usually just stay up late. And it makes waking up "on time" feel near impossible, since your body doesn't want to wake up until 10am or later.

Not ideal in a society where school and most jobs require you to arrive much earlier in the day.

Insomnia, hypersomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders are also common among those with ADHD. And there's also the idea of revenge bedtime procrastination, when someone delays sleep because at night they finally feel like they have control of their life, as opposed to the daytime where they feel overwhelmed with outside influence or responsibilities.

It looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are two sides of the same physiological and mental coin. — Dr. Sandra Kooij

Some disorders have specific treatments available with the help of a sleep specialist (e.g. light therapy for DSPS or a CPAP machine for sleep apnea). There are some things you can try on your own as well, that can help some people:

  • Read a book in the hour or so before you want to sleep. Reading often makes me tired, and staying from my slot-machine phone helps my brain to slow down.
  • Keep the bedroom temp cold. Having a lower temperature in your room at night has been shown to promote healthier sleep.
  • Use bright lights in the morning. As miserable as that may sound—the more light, the better for training your brain this is the time it's supposed to be awake.

Honestly though, I've tried all of these and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule remains one of my biggest struggles—I would be lying if I said those strategies fixed it for me. It remains a battle that can feel out of my control.

It doesn't help that I sometimes feel like I am most productive or creative at night. So it can feel difficult to let that go, knowing that productivity can often feel more elusive during the day.

Do you struggle with sleep? Have you found techniques that have helped? Let me know!

Stay focused,

Jesse J. Anderson

P.S. I just launched my Refocus Your ADHD Brain course on Maven!

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This course is a deep dive into practical application of the content from the book—you'll work together in live virtual workshops with a cohort of other ADHDers to develop strategies that work for your brain and learn the fundamentals of living with ADHD. ​​ ​Enroll in the Refocus Your ADHD Brain cohort course today to guarantee your spot!​



🎙️ Tuning up your ADHD Brain to Get The Most Out of It - Heal with Sushil podcast​ ​I had a wonderful time talking with Sushil about ADHD, productivity, and tips for finding the motivation to do stuff you know you should be doing, when you just can't seem to make it interesting.