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Practicing sleep hygiene

Content reviewed and updated: 12/3/21

How to Create a Great ADHD-Friendly Nighttime Routine

Living with ADHD can often be overwhelming. It’s a lifelong condition that can affect almost every aspect of your life—in both positive and negative ways. Getting off to a great start each morning can be a challenge with ADHD. The good news is, there are many things you can do to manage your symptoms each day, like lifestyle changes and routines. The key to having a successful morning starts the night before with a great ADHD-friendly nighttime routine. Continue reading to learn how to create a nighttime routine that works for you.

Sleep and ADHD

A solid nighttime routine can help you get enough sleep, which is important if you have ADHD. But the relationship between sleep and ADHD is more complex than you might think. ADHD can actually cause sleep problems. On top of that, lack of sleep can mimic or exacerbate your ADHD symptoms. That’s why it’s important to create a nighttime routine that helps you avoid exhaustion. 

Sleep deprivation can exacerbate ADHD symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. More specifically, sleep deprivation may worsen executive dysfunction, delay reaction time, and even decrease stimulant medication efficacy. When you’re exhausted from lack of sleep, your brain does not function at its full potential before you take medication, and you may not experience the full benefit of your medication.

On the other hand, you might experience trouble falling asleep if you take extended-release stimulants, a type of stimulant medication that lasts longer. You can talk to your provider about short-acting stimulants, or stimulants that wear off more quickly. This type of stimulant medication won’t last through the evening like long-acting stimulants, as long as you take them at the right time. 

Creating an ADHD-friendly nighttime time routine can help you avoid sleeping problems and start feeling more refreshed in the morning. It can be difficult to make changes to your routine or even start one in the first place, but there are many tips and tricks to help you get started.

Getting started with your ADHD-friendly nighttime routine

Start by thinking about what you can do at night to make life easier for yourself in the morning. Once you get in the habit of doing things for the sake of your future self, small tasks and chores might not seem so difficult. But it’s important to keep in mind that your future self is the same as your present self. This means if you don’t feel like doing a task at night, you probably won’t feel like doing it in the morning either. This can lead to a never-ending cycle of procrastination. Try to avoid falling into the mindset of thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow when I have more time.” 

Your bedtime routine should focus on what you need to be successful the next day. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to tailoring your routine to your needs, so give yourself some time to adjust to these new habits. Whether you need a few general tips and tricks or specific suggestions, we’ve compiled a list to help you start improving your nighttime routine.

tips for creating an ADHD-friendly nighttime routine

  • Come up with a realistic checklist. Be specific and detailed with each task to get an idea of what you need in your routine. 
  • Set a bedtime every day. Having a set deadline for your bedtime routine helps you manage your time better.
  • Mark the start of your routine with one simple task like flossing your teeth. Once you accomplish this one task, it will become easier to get the ball rolling on other tasks.
  • Pack your bag the night before. Prepare your work or school essentials (laptop, wallet, charger, notebooks, etc.) so you don’t forget anything.
  • Declutter your favorite morning spaces the night before. You’ll be able to enjoy your favorite cup of tea in the kitchen when there’s less clutter. 
  • Set alarms for each chore. This helps you avoid losing track of time and falling into hyper-focus mode.
  • Set your alarm clock for the next day in intervals of 15 mins with different sounds for each alarm. This will help stimulate your brain to wake up the next morning.
  • If you need to remember to bring something with you the next day, place it right in front of the exit door so you have to see it before you leave. If you can’t leave the item out, put a sticky note on the door handle to remind yourself.
  • Get into the habit of journaling before going to bed. Managing life with ADHD can be overwhelming, so being able to let out your thoughts and emotions somewhere helps you feel more prepared for the next day.
  • Write a reverse to-do list of the things you’ve accomplished that day. This may help you feel more accomplished looking at the things you were able to complete rather than looking at a list of things that you haven’t done yet.
  • Use blackout curtains. This helps block any outside light that might disturb your sleep.

Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for you. It can be helpful to check online ADHD discussion groups like Reddit or Facebook for suggestions that might be right for you. Take some time to see what works best with your symptoms but don’t be discouraged if it takes time to find the right combination for you.

Things to avoid in your nighttime routine

When making changes and adjusting your nighttime routine, it’s important to not only add new habits but to also let go of old ones. If you simply add new habits but keep the old ones that aren’t serving you well, you might not experience the full benefits of your new healthier habits.

Here are a few things you should try to avoid to make sure your routine goes as planned. The following list can be beneficial to anyone in general, but more specifically to people with ADHD as each factor can have a direct impact on ADHD symptoms.

    • Avoid alcohol. It’s true that alcohol can act as a sedative, but your sleep is usually more disrupted. You don’t get the deep sleep you need to feel well rested. You might even wake up to use the bathroom more often throughout the night if you drink before bedtime.
    • Don’t drink caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you stay awake longer. This might work for you in the morning time, but you want to avoid it at bedtime. Try not to drink caffeine at least a few hours before bedtime, or don’t drink it at all. 
    • Don’t smoke. Nicotine is also another stimulant that you want to avoid before bed. Smoking right before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep and cause disrupted sleep.
    • Avoid sugar. Sugar can give you an energy boost that you don’t need at bedtime. Try avoiding sugary drinks and foods before bed so you can fall asleep easier.

One of the most important tips is to avoid hyper-focusing on activities before bedtime. This can be difficult if you have ADHD because people with ADHD are prone to hyper-focusing on activities. Hyperfocus activities can include anything from scrolling on mobile devices, watching tv, playing video games, any task that can engage your maximum focus for long periods of time. Hyper-focusing on a single task goes hand in hand with time blindness, a common trait in people with ADHD. Time blindness happens when you aren’t aware of the time passing, how much time is left, or how fast the time is passing. Time blindness can make it difficult to manage your tasks before bed, leading to a lack of sleep. 

It’s best to remove the temptation of hyper-focusing on activities when it’s time for bed. You can do this by removing your phone, TV, computer and other distractions from your bedroom. If you need your phone for your alarm clock, put it far away from your bed so you’re not as tempted to scroll. Realistically, completely cutting out technology from your bedtime routine can be difficult, especially since we live in a world constantly connected to technology. Instead, try and set a rule for yourself to stay away from your phone 1 hour before bed. Turn it off or set it on Do Not Disturb mode if possible. This helps you avoid “scrolling paralysis” and losing hours of sleep.

Avoiding these few things can help you manage your time better at night. As you continue to tweak your bedtime routine according to your needs, try to identify the triggers in your environment that negatively impact your symptoms. You can start avoiding or removing these triggers from your routine. This general guideline helps improve not only your nighttime routine but also your general ability to manage your ADHD symptoms.

Take control of your bedtime habits

Creating an ADHD-friendly nighttime routine takes time, but implementing small habits can help you make gradual changes. It’s important to allow yourself some time and patience if your bedtime routine doesn’t go as planned. Don’t feel too discouraged or frustrated. Instead, take the time to reflect on your progress and identify what’s holding you back. Note where you see improvements and develop a system that works for you. 

You can even talk with your provider about possible medication options or adjusting your treatment plan to help you achieve your goals. At Ahead, our providers can help you understand your symptoms and work with you to address your specific needs. We help you get where you want to be. However you decide to manage your symptoms, use this article as a tool to start being proactive with your nighttime routine.

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