ADHD Difficulty Waking Up in the Morning

Demi Aspey
9mins read
Jul 13, 2023

We're diving into the deep end of the struggle pool today with the ever-so-common ADHD battle of pulling ourselves from the warm embrace of our beds. 

We'll take on the head-scratching puzzle of why our ADHD brains often find themselves locked in mortal combat with the iPhone alarm.

With ADHD, this struggle of sleep deprivation and waking up is as real as it gets.

Let's get to the bottom of the sleep issue.

Sleep Disorders are Common in ADHD

Can you believe that between 40 to 80% of people with ADHD often wrestle with sleep disorders? Yet, ADHD sleep issues are often overlooked, especially in adults.

From relentless insomnia, where falling or staying asleep feels like a far-off dreamland, to those sneaky secondary sleep conditions like depression, ADHD has a lot of uninvited plus-ones to the slumber party.

This tag team can be as disruptive, messing with our mood, our attention span, and, you got it, our behaviour.

It's a performance killer at school or work that messes with our lives sunny vibes.

You must think, "What's with this sleep disorder bunch anyway?".

We've got everything from the snore-fest that is sleep-disordered breathing, restless leg syndrome (your legs seem to be running a marathon while you're trying to doze off), circadian rhythm sleep disorder (when your internal clock works in a different timezone), insomnia, and narcolepsy (where sleep ambushes you out of nowhere).

These sleep disorders have one thing in common: they love hanging out with ADHD. 

But the real catch is that these conditions are often overlooked, and if left untreated, they can crank up the volume of ADHD symptoms and ruin our life's parade.

Link Between ADHD & Difficulty Waking Up in The Morning

ADHD symptoms impacting sleep

It's bedtime.

You've followed every advice in the book - a warm cup of chamomile tea, your best pyjamas on, and an ambient playlist softly playing in the background. 

All the lights are off, and you're cosy under your blanket, ready for a good night's sleep. 

But your brain, it seems, is having a rager of a party, and you weren't invited. 

Now, that is a glimpse into the world of those with ADHD and their nightly battles with sleep.

Those who don't have ADHD might fall asleep effortlessly or at least within a reasonable amount of time. 

But for us with ADHD, falling asleep can be challenging and staying asleep? An adventure in itself. 

Like many things with ADHD, no one knows the exact cause of sleep challenges. 

Some experts believe it could be a combination of behavioural factors, physiological differences, and if you take it, medication.

All this sleep disruption goes a long way to impact our overall sleep system negatively. 

Because of executive dysfunction and our naturally hyperactive minds (though some people don't experience the hyperactivity with ADHD), we are prone to racing thoughts, overthinking, ruminating, restlessness, the inability to self-regulate, stick to schedules, and avoid those all too common late-night distractions. The list goes on.

Much of the time, we find ourselves amid an unhealthy dose of revenge sleep procrastination!

Sleep and ADHD difficulty waking up in the morning meme

These nocturnal activities can disrupt our sleep circadian rhythm and our body's biological clock

Do you identify as a night owl? 

Research has found that people with ADHD who have difficulty falling asleep experience a delay in releasing melatonin (the lovely stuff that helps us sleep). 

It might be because having ADHD can lead us to experience a delayed sleep phase, which means we feel more alert and active when the day usually ends. 

💡 Top tip: consider melatonin supplement if you struggle to fall asleep.

But why do people with ADHD have difficulty waking up in the morning? 

ADHD difficulty waking up in the morning meme

The signature mix of ADHD symptoms, including hyperactivity and impulsivity, make winding down and relaxing before bedtime as challenging as herding cats. Or catching sheep to count.

A little sleep deprivation isn't that bad, right?

If only it were so simple. 

Sleep deprivation can turn the tables and enhance ADHD symptoms.

Lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness (where did I put my keys?) and difficulty concentrating (what was I doing again?). 

It can feel like being stuck in a frustrating cycle of "the chicken or the egg" situation. 

Let us repeat that again: lack of sleep can make your ADHD symptoms worse.

Never fear! There are strategies and treatments available to help manage these issues. We'll get to those shortly…

Other Sleep Concerns with ADHD

Not to lay it on thick, but our struggle with the land of nod can also result from depression, increased anxiety and stress.

Hating morning and having difficulty waking up is just the start. 

With our Duracell bunny of hyperactivity refusing to switch off at the appropriate times, sleep deprivation can make it difficult for us to process information the next day, multitask or make healthy life choices hence why you'd prefer to avoid mornings altogether!

Long-term sleep deprivation for those with ADHD can make you prone to various physical health problems:

  • Mood disorders, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cancer, fatigued-related car accidents.

💡Pro Tip: To learn even more on why we need sleep, have a read through Matthew Walker's now infamous Why We Sleep book

We're not here to scare you, but sleep deprivation is serious, especially for extended periods. 

It may seem like a quirky trait of our ADHD when we're younger, but the effects compound, and our health suffers. 

So, how can you improve your sleep and FINALLY enjoy waking up in the morning?

We've popped together a guide for you!

How to Sleep Better: the ADHD Edition 💤

Tossing and turning under the sheets, a constant battle between mind and body, counting the hours before you wake up. 

"Relax!" you tell your mind, but it has grand plans and refuses to take direction. 

Worry not, there are a few tricks to get your brain to switch off, which involve navigating you towards better sleep hygiene!

Step One: 📅 Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule 

Keeping time on your side can be quite a challenge with ADHD. 

But listen up - here's a pro tip: stick to a set sleep schedule like glue. 

💡Pro Tip: Make it your mission to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends). 

Yes, I repeat, every single day, even when the allure of weekend late nights beckons. 

You will help reset your circadian clock, where your body and mind naturally start winding down at the right times each day.

You have to be strict and consistent. Otherwise, this won't work.

Step Two: 🌙 The Bedtime Routine – Your Secret Weapon 

Next up on the itinerary, devise a pre-sleep routine that whispers "Goodnight" to your hyperactive body.

This could include calm-inducing activities like reading a book. Or even listening to soothing tunes and practising meditation. 

💡Pro Tip: No screens before bed for at least an hour.

They wake you up, and their addictive design will hijack your dopamine reward system, convincing you it's ok to stay up for "just five more minutes!". 

It's a scam, don't do it.

Also, try to avoid vigorous exercise 3-4 hours before sleep - it can wake you brain up, even if your body feels tired!

💡Pro Tip: Get out of bed within 20mins if you can't fall back to sleep. 

If you wake up during the night and can't fall back asleep within ~20mins get out of bed and go to another room.

Changing the environment and distracting your mind with something boring or relaxing (reading, meditating) could help you feel drowsy again.

Step Three: 🛌 The Sanctum Sanctorum – Your Sleep Environment 

A dark, quiet, and cool bedroom can help you recharge and renew your energy for the upcoming battles of the day. 

The environment is huge for ADHD regardless of the time of day or activity. 

Creating a soothing, safe space with no distractions is essential.

💡Pro Tip: Keep your bedroom temperature between 16-18°C (60-65°F). Research suggests this is the optimal sleep temperature. 

Step Four ☀️: Wake Up and…See the Sunshine…Not the Coffee!

Aim to see the sun or step outside for five minutes as soon as you wake up! Getting the rays (even if hidden behind clouds) is linked to melatonin production and is thought to kickstart your circadian rhythm system). Avoid your phone - in fact, try to ignore it for around an hour first thing in the morning.

💡Pro Tip: Delay coffee intake to make this process more effective.

Some experts suggest waiting between 60-90 minutes before chugging the caffeine (apparently, it doesn't do much for you until the body has fully woken up - tell that to Starbucks!)

first cup of coffee touches your soul meme

Tackling Morning Motivation with ADHD

Rise and Shine: The Art of Creating a Morning Ritual 🌞

On top of a healthy sleep routine, creating a morning ritual can be particularly beneficial for ADHD. 

I promise you, I spent 29 years of my life as the fiercest morning lioness (and not in a good way).

Waking up after a horrid night's sleep with our symptoms singing at the top of their lungs is a disaster waiting to happen.

My alarm used to make me burn with anger. 

But having altered my sleep routine, I now wake up every day full of beans (and not coffee ones, either!).

(I hear you can get alarms that just vibrate with no sounds for a more tranquil wake-up call. Sounds totally alien to me who has 15 different alarms at 5-minute intervals!)

💡Pro Tip: Replace your dreadful phone alarm, with a vibration-only smart watch or artificial sun

Kickstarting your day with a structured routine can also make falling asleep much easier.

This could include meditation, physical exercise, or reading an inspiring book. 

💡Pro Tip: I found Hal Elrod's book "The Miracle Morning" to be a bit of a life changer. 

Don't worry if you read it; you perfect your routine and stop doing it after a week. That's the ADHD way, and I've learned to accept it.

As an ADHD entrepreneur, I now know how to add things to the start of my day that will benefit me. So even if I don't do everything, I know what I can do to give myself the best start. 

Give it a read, and let us know what you think!

💡Pro Tip: Find an ADHD accountability buddy to help you get out of bed and get started in the morning (more on that below).

The Power of Purpose: Finding Your Reason To Wake Up! 🎯 

We need a reason to pull ourselves away from the cosy comfort of our beds.

Be it a mission, a project, or a hobby - something that fuels your passion and makes you want to carpe that diem!

Finding something that ignites passion and motivation can make the morning routine something to look forward to rather than a chore.

And it doesn't have to be your morning routine; perhaps it's somewhere to go that you need to wake up early for or reward yourself for consistently waking up at the same time each day. 

I like to add books to my Amazon wishlist and treat myself when I stick to a new habit for a certain amount of days (writer's life!).

Ensure your reward is something positive and helpful. A late night as a reward for an early rise isn't the treat you think it is!

Empowering Mornings 🥇: The ADHD Secret Sauce 

Your mornings can be transformed from a chaotic battleground to a tranquil valley with the right strategies. 

Tackle your day before it begins by organising your to-do list the night before. ✅

Avoid putting too much on the list, as this may induce anxiety while trying to sleep.

Instead, opt for three daily priorities and remind yourself that little in life constitutes an emergency.

You can get even further ahead by planning your week.

Again, three daily tasks will help you structure your time better and ensure you can commit to your new sleep schedule.

Another technique could be ADHD body doubling online. 👥

This strategy is where two people work independently in the same space, physically or virtually, providing a mutual sense of accountability and focus.

Your shared energy can increase dopamine, productivity and general happiness. 

Many people opt for ADHD body doubling online as a way to kickstart their day.

Some practise guided meditation together, while others may plan the day ahead.

Others use ADHD coworking as a simple appointment to get started with the day.

It can also serve as a wake-up alarm because someone else will kick you out of bed by a certain time if you don't show up!

And even though time blindness and being late are common traits of ADHD, we can still do our best to control them. 

Adding a regular morning body doubling session to your morning routine is an extra trick to commit to being accountable, getting a good night's sleep and showing up consistently.

And if you're still feeling the burn of the snooze, you can always put the coffee on!

You can check Deepwrk's ADHD accountability partner app to boost your morning spirit!

By incorporating these strategies and proactively addressing sleep issues, you can enhance daily functioning and experience better well-being. 

Keep in mind that if you live in the UK the government’s Access to Work ADHD grant can help you cover costs for managing ADHD.

Looking for other ADHD life hacks? Here you can find 17 ADHD hacks that actually work and an ADHD cleaning checklist to transform the chaos into order.

References & Sources

  1. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
  2. Miracle Morning: The Not So Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8AM
  3. How Sleep Deprivation Looks a Lot Like ADHD, ADDitude
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.