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6 Top Tips for Improving Sleep if You Have ADHD

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October is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month in the UK, a condition that commonly impacts a person’s ability to concentrate or rest as well as other symptoms. 

For those with ADHD, getting enough sleep can be a challenge. In fact, resident sleep expert at Time4Sleep, Dr Hana Patel estimates that 50–75% of adults with ADHD experience sleep problems, ranging from insomnia to secondary sleep conditions. 

Dr. Patel explains: “In general, people with ADHD are more likely to sleep for shorter periods of time, struggle to initiate sleep as well as remain asleep, and may even develop sleep disorders. While some children with ADHD experience difficulties with sleep, the issues tend to worsen during adolescence and increase in adulthood, meaning many patients, regardless of when they were diagnosed, are still searching for solutions.”

To help those with ADHD improve their sleep quality, Time4Sleep’s resident sleep expert, Dr Patel shares her top tips below. 

Listen to your body 

Dr. Patel explains: “ADHD related sleep problems can differ between patients, depending on their diagnosis subtype. For example, if someone has inattentive ADHD, which means they’re quick to lose focus and get distracted, they are more likely to go to bed at a later time, meaning they may benefit from preparing for bed earlier than usual to help encourage a better sleep routine.

“Alternatively, those with predominantly hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms such as fidgeting and inability to sit still, are more likely to experience insomnia, making it more difficult for them to turn off their thoughts at bedtime. If you cannot fall asleep, get up again for a short while and try to engage in a relaxing activity such as meditation or reading a book, then return to bed once you have wound down. Try not to expose yourself to any bright light or perform activities that will alert your brain even more, such as intense exercise.” 

Find time to address anything on your mind 

“Some of the biggest factors contributing to ADHD induced insomnia are all the thoughts whizzing through a person’s mind when they’re trying to get to sleep. While it can be difficult to turn them off, those impacted should make time before sleep to acknowledge the thoughts and anything potentially worrying them, so that they can put them to rest ahead of trying to sleep. 

For example, if you’re worried about not completing your tasks the following day, find time before bed to think about this and make a to-do list and an action plan for getting them done. Be sure to be strict with your time, meaning once you’re done with the exercise, make a conscious effort to be done with those thoughts for the day”, advises Dr Patel.

If possible, only go to bed when you feel tired 

Dr Patel continued: “While all adults should aim for 7–8 hours sleep a night, going to bed when you’re not tired isn’t going to be effective. If your body is not ready for sleep, you cannot force it to sleep. 

“Instead, try to go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy, as this will reduce the time you remain alert in bed, as well as the frustration you may experience by being unable to settle.”

Have a sleep routine 

“Try to develop habits that allow your body to prepare itself for bed. Include things that you enjoy and that relax you such as listening to relaxing music, reading or listening to an audio book, or having a cup of caffeine-free tea. 

Relaxation techniques such as a hot bath or shower, stretching, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing may also help to relieve anxiety, reduce muscle tension, and allow you to fall asleep more easily. Sleep apps can also help if you’re still struggling,” advises Dr. Patel.

Avoid stimulants 4–6 hours before bed 

“Regardless of ADHD subtype, many people with ADHD experience daytime sleepiness and difficulty waking or getting up in the morning. All of which can be worsened by stimulating the brain in the lead up to sleep

“With this in mind, aim to stay away from caffeine, sugar, nicotine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before bed. Patients should also avoid exercise in the evenings as much as possible. While exercise is recommended for your overall physical and mental health and can certainly improve sleep, it can keep you awake if done too late. So, try to avoid exercise during the evenings and definitely before bed”, advised D  Patel.

Optimise your sleep environment 

Dr Patel continued:“If you’re trying to sleep around chaos, you’re not going to have much success. Make sure your environment is quiet, calm and comfortable. Noise-cancelling earphones, heavy curtains, or a white noise machine may help if you’re struggling to drown out environmental noises. 

“If you find yourself waking up at the crack of dawn when you don’t need or want to, installing blackout curtains or wearing an eye mask should help.”if you find yourself waking up at the crack of dawn when you don’t want or need to.” 

Dr Patel concludes: “People with ADHD-related sleep deprivation may feel grumpy, irritable, restless, or tired, or they may have trouble paying attention at school or at work. If this happens, speak to your GP for advice about your sleep.” 

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