Sleep Strategies for College Students With ADHD

Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to be their best selves! But sleep issues often come with the territory for adults with ADHD. Are you dealing with any of these challenges?

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Struggling to wake up in the morning
  • Trouble remaining alert during the day
  • Sleep-related disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy

How to Get to Sleep – Eliminate causes of sleep disruption

Knowing how to get to sleep when you have ADHD involves removing causes of sleep disruption and making changes in your routine that encourage sleep – the Do’s and Don’ts. You’ll get more sleep if you reduce or eliminate the following sources of sleep disruption.

Stimulating foods, drinks and medications

A few guidelines: Don’t consume coffee, caffeinated sodas and tea, or alcohol within four hours of bed. Reduce or eliminate sugar consumption as well.

Stimulating activities

Don’t plan high interest activities for late in the evening since they reduce the chance of falling asleep on schedule.

The blue light emitted from electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and energy-efficient lights signals the brain to produce cortisol which will keep you from getting to sleep. One way to protect yourself from the effects of blue light is to wear glasses with orange-tinted lenses. If you don’t wear tinted lenses, be sure to avoid “screen time” for at least one to two hours before bedtime.

ADHD medication

Some people respond better to taking ADHD medication later in the day since it quiets their nervous system, making it easier to get to sleep. However, some people have more success if they take their last dose of medication earlier in the day. Be open to tweak your medication cycle to get the best results.

Stress levels

The hormone cortisol is released when you’re under stress, and high levels of cortisol can disrupt your sleep! If you are experiencing high levels of stress or coping with negative emotions, try some of these tips.

Control your emotions by assuming the “power pose”

Research from the Harvard Business School in 2012 showed that people can lower their level of stress and increase their self-confidence by changing their posture. The power pose reduces stress in your body by lowering the level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Remember Wonder Woman – Linda Carter? She stood in a position called the “power pose.” Standing with your hands on your hips, shoulders up and back and chest out – the power pose – changes your body chemistry.

In as little as two minutes, your body’s chemistry can shift to more self-confidence by increasing testosterone levels (women have testosterone too).

Control your emotions by stretching your body

When you’re stressed, the tendons in the back of your body contract. Take a short stretching break regularly and you’ll work more productively and comfortably.

How to Get to Sleep – Develop routines to encourage sleep

Make getting enough sleep a priority

Myth: One hour less sleep will give you one hour of extra time for work or play!

Truth: One hour less sleep causes mental confusion, memory loss, decreased happiness, lower efficiency and reduced accuracy. One hour less sleep is very costly when you’re trying to do great things really well!

Medical conditions

Be sure to visit your doctor to obtain treatment for any sleep-related condition such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, allergies or food sensitivities. Treating these conditions can make a big difference in getting to sleep!

Bed time ritual and routines

Use some of these tips to develop your own – ‘I actually like getting ready for bed!” – routine:

  • Read something you enjoy that you’ve read before, or journal about your thoughts
  • Acknowledge everything that went well that day (releases serotonin which will help you get to sleep)
  • Practice gratitude for everything you have (releases serotonin)
  • Engage in prayer or meditation (releases serotonin)
  • Spend quiet time with cherished loved ones (even pets!)

Decrease cortisol levels

Relax your nervous system before bed with one or more of these relaxation aids:

  • Warm bath or shower
  • Warm milk with a teaspoon of sugar and real vanilla extract
  • Aroma therapy – Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or vanilla can be calming for many people who experience sleeplessness. Infuse the scent in the room, put in the bathtub, or just sniff it right from the bottle!

Control ambient conditions

Be sure your environment doesn’t irritate or stimulate your nervous system. Temperature is one important factor. Be sure it’s not too hot to sleep, or too cold to get out of bed!

Experiment with sounds to find the one that works best for you. The “white noise” of a fan, soothing music, or nature sounds are good places to start.

Get the best mattress, pillow, and covers for you. Some people respond well to weighted blankets that calm their nervous systems.

Make waking up easier and enjoyable

Some people find it helps to take medication before getting out of bed in the morning and either sleeping for another 30 mins or just relaxing in bed. Taking medication before you get out of bed may make it easier to become alert enough to get up. Keep a glass of water and your medication by your bed. Set two alarm clocks – one to take your medicine, and one to get out of bed.

Have a routine you look forward to such as a quiet time for meditation or prayer, a relaxing breakfast with friends, or an enjoyable exercise workout. Plan something you’ll be eager to get out of bed to do, and it will make getting up a lot easier!

Your own getting to sleep plan

Start by choosing one “don’t” and one “do” from the tips above. Make small changes in your sleep approach and take note of the effects. Remember – most people need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function at peek levels!

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Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET is a board certified educational therapist and ADHD coach who has been educating and coaching adults and young people who have ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges, and other complex needs for more than twenty-five years.  She holds a PhD in educational psychology and mathematical statistics, an MEd in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a BS in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders. Dr. Miller provides support across the lifespan – to school-aged students with learning and attention challenges, to young adults in transition to college or the workplace, and to women with ADHD who have passionate dreams, but are frustrated by procrastination, lack of focus and difficulty following through.

  1. Reply

    >Plan something you’ll be eager to get out of bed to do, and it will make getting up a lot easier!

    I love the idea of this, but my problem is I can never figure out something that I would be super eager to do in the morning. I guess I need to search for something to be excited about?

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