ADHD and Bedtime Procrastination

It’s the end of the day. You’re tired. Pushing your brain to perform has drained your energy. All you want to do is relax in front of the TV. You promise yourself you’ll only watch one episode, maybe two at the most. Next thing you know, it’s 2:00 a.m., and you’re still watching! The realization that your alarm will ring in five hours cues your arousal system to ALERT mode and a cascade of unhelpful self-deprecating thoughts follow.

The result is another night of poor sleep, the continuation of a vicious cycle, dragging yourself out of bed in the morning, and another day of feeling tired, irritable and unproductive.

The majority of people living with ADHD have difficulty with sleep. There is a range of sleep problems and sleep disorders that individuals experience, including delayed sleep phase, insomnia, and sleep apnea. In addition, challenges such as getting to bed and problems managing good sleep habits are common.

The difficulties with self-regulation, impulsivity, and restlessness, often seen in those living with ADHD, influence behaviours that can lead to sleep problems and cause sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can result in several physical and mental symptoms such as irritability, low energy, reduced libido, poor judgment, increased pain, and moods that look like anxiety and depression.

This post will address an inconspicuous and poorly understood sleep difficulty called “bedtime procrastination.” In their book Procrastination Habits and Wellbeing, Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Pychyl define bedtime procrastination as “the phenomenon of postponing going to bed, typically resulting in a lack of sleep.” Sirois and Pychyl argue that bedtime procrastination is a self-regulation problem often accompanied by guilt and shame.

Bedtime procrastination and the ensuing lack of healthy sleep can be a significant problem impacting one’s mental and physical health and exacerbating the symptoms of ADHD. Unfortunately, procrastination, accompanied by guilt and shame, is a common and often familiar experience for individuals living with ADHD. Therefore, acknowledging the role of ADHD in sleep insufficiency and bedtime procrastination is an essential element of managing this self-undermining behaviour.

The right support and easy-to-follow strategies are essential to breaking the cycle of bedtime procrastination. It’s important to keep in mind that people with ADHD may have an insufficient built-in reward system and low internal motivation and accountability. Therefore, creating external accountability, rewards, and reminders are essential to managing bedtime procrastination. I’ve created an easy-to-remember acronym, PRIME, as a helpful guide to beating bedtime procrastination. PRIME includes the elements of Plan, Reward, Interesting, Mindful, and Enjoy. So let’s take a closer look at how you can PRIME yourself to avoid bedtime procrastination!

  • PLAN ahead for the inevitable. When it’s close to bedtime, you will have fewer reserves to transition from one activity to the next, i.e. getting from the sofa to your bed, so a clear, simple plan is essential. Your plan should include accountability and a manageable bedtime routine. Remember that changing behaviour takes time and often requires trial and error, so be patient with yourself!
  • REWARD yourself when you follow through with your plans. For example, you can use a checklist or treat yourself to a bubble bath. It’s also helpful to remind yourself of the benefits of keeping a bedtime routine. Make a list of the benefits that are meaningful to you, and post the list where you will see it every day.
  • Make it INTERESTING. Boredom is kryptonite to those living with ADHD. So tap into your creativity to make your bedtime routine more enjoyable. But remember to keep it relaxing and keep the lights dim.
  • Be MINDFUL of temptations. Ditch the self-judgment and instead focus on the times you have successfully avoided temptation. For example, what did you do, and what circumstances allowed you to succeed? Be a detective and figure out how to avoid the temptations that get in the way of your plans.
  • ENJOY your day. Create a routine, so you have time for fun. Pacing your work and planning for enjoyment can help you feel less depleted at the end of the day, help manage your symptoms, boost your productivity, and improve overall well-being.

Lastly, ADHD and sleep problems are treatable. If you are struggling with sleep and self-help methods are not working, seek out the support of a professional with specialized sleep training. A comprehensive Sleep Assessment can help identify sleep disorders and get you on your way to appropriate treatment. ADHD is not a character flaw; it is a biological health problem and highly treatable!