Your ADHD Brain Needs More Sleep — How to Get It
The best thing you can do for your health? Go to sleep earlier. Really. Here is how I began leading a healthier, happier life by learning how to sleep better — and longer.
Insufficient sleep leads to health consequences including a higher risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But a sleep shortfall can also seriously impair your happiness — and that impact is no less great.
The human brain gets accustomed to being sleep-deprived. We notice the effect on mood and alertness, but before long, we adjust to that state as normal. So you may feel fine, but if you got more sleep, you might feel even better.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Happiness
I usually sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but before I started my “happiness project,” I would often stay up late to read, answer emails, watch TV, talk to my sister on the West Coast, or cruise the Internet. I was fine at night, but I suffered the next morning. I feel crabby when I’m jarred out of sleep by the alarm, and I dislike racing around on weekday mornings, with no time to spare. To have more energy and more calm, I needed to go to sleep earlier (and to wake up earlier). I looked for ways to prod myself to turn off the light and go to sleep.
Here are things that helped me get to bed on time and sleep better.
- Set a specific bedtime for yourself. Many people have no idea what time they “should” go to sleep in order to feel well rested. Be realistic! If you have to wake up at 7 a.m., staying awake until 1:30 a.m. is not wise.
- Get ready for bed well before your bedtime. Sometimes, I used to feel too tired to go to bed. Now I wash my face, take out my contact lenses, and brush my teeth well before I plan to turn off the light.
[Better Than Counting Sheep! Your Free Guide to Sleeping Better]
- Make your room dark. Shut the blinds, block out the lights from your computer, clock, and phone. Believe it or not, even the tiny light from a digital alarm clock disrupts a sleep cycle.
- Stretch. Research shows that women who were having trouble sleeping fared better when they stretched four times a week.
- Keep your bedroom a little chilly.
- If your mind is racing with worry, make a list of everything you need to do the next day. This always works for me. I can make myself crazy fretting that I’m going to forget to do something important. If I make a list, I can relax.
- Tidy up your bedroom. It’s not restful to be surrounded by clutter.
- Exercise. Studies suggest that people who exercise fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. This is especially true for people who have trouble sleeping.[Free Webinar Replay: Sleep and the ADHD Brain: Why It’s Critical and How to Get More]
- An hour before bedtime, avoid work that requires alert thinking. I try to stop myself from checking my emails before I go to bed, because it wakes me up. I made this mistake last night. I got some emails answered, but I was so wound up that it took me forever to go to sleep.
- My other sleep-inducing innovation: I put on socks if my feet are cold. I feel frumpy, but my husband won’t let me use his legs as a foot warmer.
- Tell yourself, “I have to get up now.” Imagine that you just hit the snooze alarm, and in a minute, you’re going to be marching through your morning routine. This can be an exhausting enough prospect to make me fall asleep.
- Give up, and reframe your sleeplessness as a welcome opportunity to snatch some extra time out of your day. If I wake up and can’t get back to sleep after 4 a.m., I get up and start working. Instead of starting the day feeling annoyed, I have a wonderful feeling of having accomplished a lot before my standard wake-up time of 6 a.m.
[How Sleep Deprivation Looks a Lot Like ADHD]