Do you have a consistent bedtime, or do you just keep going until you are no longer able to stay awake? I battled this problem much of my life and still struggle with it at times. There were times, when writing my book, that I would go to bed only after my head began dipping suddenly toward my laptop.
Late at night, when silence and solitude replace distractions and obligations, you are undeterred in initiating a preferred activity. Although you put off starting manageable tasks that feel imposing, it is easy to activate your attention with a preferred interest. The preferred activity grabs hold, and suddenly, the bliss of your selective attention hijacks almost every region of your unmanaged brain.
You are not going to be interrupted late at night, and that feels so good! Am I right? And your attention doesn’t need to be managed when locked into one state of awareness. Fully submerged into that intensively focused state, you feel competent. You can do anything…except track time and consider the consequences of choosing to push the limit. Nothing else is on the radar. And even if something else appeared on the radar, it would not be flagged as important! If some thought about needing sleep should surface somewhere in a remote corner of your brain, you might counter that your medicine will help you stay alert the next day.
It may not occur to you that using your medication to recover from loss of sleep is drug abuse. Your doctor didn’t prescribe it to help you pull all-nighters! In fact, if you use it for recovery from depriving yourself of sleep, you may as well be taking one pill to make your ADHD worse and another to make it better. At best, the medicine might bring you back up to just below your normal ADHD baseline, but YOU WILL NOT BE TREATING YOUR ADHD. You will know it the next day, but the next day is some other time and not now. You are a prisoner of the present (borrowing a phrase from John Ratey’s, Shadow Syndromes).
There can be other reasons for your difficulty getting to sleep or remaining asleep through the night. Sleep insufficiency can result from excessive movement when sleeping (restless legs syndrome), staring at a screen late at night (reducing your brain’s natural melatonin), being exposed to excessive noise late in the evening, having a co-existing condition (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, sleep apnea), living a sedentary lifestyle, taking too high a dosage of ADHD medication, or taking medication too late in the day.
It is best to have a regular bedtime and allow some quiet time before getting into bed. Exercise and meditation are especially good for enhancing the quality of your sleep. Meditation can help you be more aware of your state of attention. If you are serious about living well with ADHD—with or without medication—you need to be serious about getting adequate sleep. Give it up…shut it down…say good night!