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How to Manage Poor Sleep at Work if You Have ADHD [Lived Experience]

Keith Greenwood  |  21/05/2021

Keith Greenwood explains how common sleep deprivation is for ADHD, and some tips on how to manage it. 
Sensory garden museum.

A Personal Story

Sleep deprived people with ADHD have a higher incidence of omission errors, commission errors and a decrease in reaction time. While standard medication can help the degree it does so is diminished because your brain is already compromised from the start.

More work piles up and so you get caught in a vicious cycle. ADHD brains need more sleep but can find it doubly difficult to achieve restfulness. With the results becoming cumulative so you feel just a bit more slow, a bit more angry and a bit less likable every day.

Example

As a personal experience, I have begun to notice sleep deprivation when even after taking my medication it took another twenty minutes to reach the state of mind I normally associated with how I felt before taking it. I felt by the middle of the work day the degree of weariness I associated with its end. Error checking which for me could take seconds became a longer process with half a minute or more passing before I recognised something I had to go back and correct. 

In regards to other people in the work place it would made me far less sympathetic to their complaints about lack of sleep since I ‘knew’ that I had it worse. Yet unwilling to disclose why because having people be dismissive of its effects on me.

Especially when you do not want to stay out too late for social activities due to very real concerns as to what insufficient sleep does to you. Alongside a certain envy of those people who can in fact party all night and then look fantastic the next morning. That is not something that I was once able to do and now cannot. That is something I have never been able to do.

 Even as I reminded myself that they were looking at it from how a late night would affect themselves it took longer to overcome that resentment which ties into the really nasty effect of sleep deprivation in the workplace.

How Poor Sleep Affects Your Memory

A certain degree of it is needed to keep track of things at the work place.  After several days of poor sleep my paranoia towards my coworkers began to rise. There can be the suspicion that those you work with dismiss your concerns or abilities because of the differences in how our minds work. I can rationalise this away because I work with professionals. 

Memory retention is not really a problem for ADHD yet the misconception of it is common. Maintaining a calm and professional demeanor can be vital for being taken seriously and overcoming these biases. Having a higher likelihood to suspect the worst of motives behind others people’s actions will quickly make an already slower workday far more stressful.

Given these challenges, here are some tips on how to manage your sleep.

1. Sleep at the Same Time Everyday

It is really tempting to sleep in more on the weekends. While this can provide a temporary relief alternating between long sleep on the weekends and short sleep in the workdays deregulates the sleep wake cycle. Ergo you will only be properly rested if at all on the weekends since you are just catching up to the sleep you missed in the week. 

The whole thing just starts again on Monday so you get at best three days full work effectiveness. While napping may sound like an option it does not really overcome the long term effects just provides a short bout of relief. Assuming you can even take a nap if you are under any medication.

2. Set a Deadline for Bed and Stick To It

There is the temptation to go pass the deadline. Maybe it’s a really interesting book. Maybe something entertaining. Maybe you are excited and just do not want to rest yet. Maybe after such a long and exhausting day and the long day tomorrow you just want to put off tomorrow for a little longer. 

Honestly it can be a reaction to the need to budget your time around when your medication is most effective during the day. Heck if your medication is wearing off which it must in order to sleep you may stop paying attention to the time. But ten minutes can become twenty then an hour and before you know it you have reached midnight. 

Staying up late is the definition of paying it forwards and when sleep deprivation becomes cumulative. Also it can be harder for us to fall asleep as easily as others do. Due to being distracted by other things or our thoughts still swirling in our minds from what we have not done yet. Personally I go to bed at ten on the chance I might not actually lose consciousness until 10.30.

Allow a buffer period for how long you may need to actually drift off. Stop reading the book, turn out the lights and rest. Using medicine to help you get to sleep is an emergency measure because you do not want to run the risk of becoming dependent on them.

3. Do Not Lean on The Meds Too Much

It is true that our use of ADHD medication means we are not as badly affected by sleep deprivation as we would otherwise be. Initially you can actually miss any severe effects for the first day or two. As more time passes whether using long acting or short acting variations the effects when it wears off are exacerbated. Instead of a gradual slow down at the end of the workday you can crash.

So to sum up, to manage sleep as an ADHD professional, I would suggest the following: 

  1. Sleep at the same time everyday
  2. Set a deadline for bedtime and stick to it
  3. Don’t rely too much on your medication!

Maintain these work/sleep habits and you will find your interactions at work and even at home afterwards to be much easier.

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