Monday , 11 December 2017

Can’t Sleep? Me Too!

Adult ADHDBy Rick Green


My wife and I attended two large ADHD conferences that were about a month apart, and were were able to interview some great experts. One of the topics that came a lot was sleeplessness.

Poor sleep. The ADHD adult as a ‘Night Owl.’ Sound familiar?

The result of these interviews, and some of the interviews we had already done before them, are assembled into two cool videos:  Why Can’t I Sleep  and ADDeep Sleep.

The experts we sat down with (who have ADHD themselves) talked about the challenges of a mind that is coming awake as everyone else in the world is nodding off, fading away, and heading off to slumber land.

Dr. Roberto Olivardia talked about a sleep study he took part in that showed that his brain actually is waking up at 10:00 at night. Which worked well for him at Medical School and in being able to work without distraction because most of the world has shut down. (This was before the constant thrumming of the Internet.)

It works less well now that he is a father, a husband, and a doctor with clients.

As he described how he struggles, I nodded. And nodded. And nodded.

“Yep. I know that one.”

It’s like the Sleep Fairy is sprinkling magic dust over most people, and sprinkling some kind of stimulant over the rest of us, the adults with ADHD.


I was surprised to learn that adults with ADHD suffer from higher rates of various sleep disorders like Restless Legs Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.  That last one, as Dr. Kathleen Nadeau explained, is the fancy scientific term for being a ‘Night Owl.’

The ability to stay up late and be ‘on’ is one of the reasons I got into show business. Live theatre works for someone who is at their best in the evening. Or, if not their best, their second best.  (The other time we tend to be at our best and most productive is first thing in the morning.)

So while other people were settling down in their theatre seats to enjoy an evening of comedy, we performers were back stage, revving up. In fact, I often went through a severe dip in energy starting at about 4:00 pm and running till about 7:00 pm. I’d be drained, head nodding, my brain a wad of sludge, feeling slightly ill. Time and again I was convinced I was coming down with something and I’d brace myself for the possibility that I’d be sick during the show.

What’s the shortest route to the washroom if I’m nauseous?

Then as I slouched in my dressing room, or in the green room, head lolling, the stage manager would pass by, “One hour to curtain, people. One hour.” My body would start to rally.

By time the Stage Manager called out, “Five minutes to curtain. Places please!” I was grinning, eager, hopping from foot to foot, itching to go. The dread had turned to excitement, anticipation, laced with just enough stage fright to keep me sharp.

Loved it.


Patrick McKenna, who went through the Second City system, experienced the same thing. What’s interesting is that after the main show had ended, around 10:00, there would be a break, and then the performers would come back and do another hour or more of improv. Which requires the most focus. You have to be alert, listening, and ready to boogie with whatever the other actors said.

At the end of the show the audience left satisfied and spent.

But I was always ready to do another show. And I was ravenous. We’d end up in a deli eating bagels and cream cheese and Caesar salad until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Asleep by 3:00, up at noon…. It was great.


FranticMakeupSo you can imagine my shock when I started doing television. Up at 6:30 a.m. In makeup at 8:00 or 8:30. Going until 6:00 or 7:00 at night. Since I was always both a writer and a performer of the TV shows, and often also the director and producer, it was a dramatic shift.

How did I shift from one to the other? How did I move from a live theatre schedule to a TV schedule?

Basically, I didn’t. I stopped doing live theatre mostly.

As well, the first TV series I did coincided with the birth of my first child. Which disrupted life’s routines and schedules more than work ever did. So I had to let go of what felt ‘natural.’

What’s interesting now is that I have learned some techniques to get myself to sleep very quickly. In fact, it’s rare that Ava falls asleep before I do.

What are those techniques?

Computer and cell phone off. No exciting TV shows after 10:30. Reading a book that’s interesting but not thrilling. (No Stephen King. No Game of Thrones. No murder mysteries.)

As the 6 experts in ADDeep Sleep explain, there are routines you can follow, and also physical changes you can make to your environment to make sure your brain is being told, “Prepare to go Sub Warp Speed. Prepare for down time.”

If you’re struggling with sleep, ADDeep Sleep explains why your brain doesn’t want to go beddy-bye when society says you should, and what you can do to fall asleep faster and actually sleep better.

Because, as Dr. Annick Vincent says in the video, “Sleep is boring.”  But lying in bed, and not sleeping is not just boring, it’s frustrating. To the point of exhaustion. Alas, exhaustion without sleep, without replenishing, without feeling refreshed. It feels like a waste of time. “Great, 7 hours and I don’t feel better.”


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