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The Effects of Sleep on ADHD Symptoms

What if I told you that sleep is one of the most important tools in your ADHD toolbox? According to the CDC, one in three adults is not getting enough sleep. When you narrow that down to adults with ADHD, two in three are not getting enough sleep. Now it’s true that folks with ADHD are at a higher risk for sleep disorders. However, as an ADHD coach, I often run into clients who aren’t prioritizing their sleep because they simply don’t understand just how important it is for their cognitive well-being. Often they are using overwork and perfectionism as their primary tools. They push past exhaustion to finish tasks and be available for anyone needing them. When they come to me, they’re fried. They feel like they can’t think clearly, they’re constantly forgetting things, and they struggle to regulate their emotions. Does this sound like you? Allow me to make the case for some much-needed shut-eye. 

Restorative sleep is a critical function that allows our bodies and brains to recharge. Every stage of the sleep cycle revitalizes the brain for peak functioning. Most adults (with and without ADHD) need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When they don’t get it, they struggle. Insufficient sleep adversely affects attention, decision-making, higher-order executive functioning, and memory.  Research reveals that adults who get a mere 4-6 hours of sleep per night are more likely to exhibit depressed mood, lowered cognitive thought, more lapses in attention, sluggish working memory, and slower reaction times. In adults with ADHD, attention and emotional regulation may be markedly affected by a lack of sleep. In other words, getting enough sleep is crucial for helping the ADHD brain to do all the things it already struggles to do! A solid foundation of sleep sets the brain up for success.

Establishing proper sleep hygiene and getting consistent sleep are powerful ways to help reduce ADHD symptoms. Unsure what that looks like? You can start by implementing the following practices:

  1. Keep your bedroom cool and dark. This helps signal to our bodies that it’s time to sleep.

  2. Do your best to wake up and go to sleep around the same time each day. 

  3. Avoid scrolling on your phone or sitting on your computer in bed. Consider screenless activities to help you wind down such as reading, crossword puzzles, knitting, etc.

  4. Reduce caffeine consumption in the evening.

  5. If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, do a low-energy activity, and then try again. 

If any of these practices seem too challenging, or you’ve tried them and they didn’t help as much as you wanted, don’t be afraid to ask for support. A primary care doctor, psychologist, ADHD Coach, sleep specialist, or all of the above can have the input and strategies you need to support a healthy relationship with sleep. Sources:



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