Let's Talk logo. Red cartoon brain with grey wires reaching to acronyms for ADHD related subjects. Sleep is in Red.

Let’s talk about ADHD and how sleep plays a huge role in my writing.

Or lack there of.

Sleep has never been a great friend of mine. I’ve had countless nights, lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, waiting to fall back into a deep slumber. As Billy Shakespeare once said, “to sleep, perchance to dream.” Yeah, right. (Also yes, I did also quote Sky Sweetnam. Sorry about that).

Let’s Talk About ADHD And Sleep

I’d like to start out by making it clear that I’m not an insomniac. I’ve done sleep tests in the past. I snore like a chainsaw, but I hook myself up to a machine at night to stop the noise from keeping others awake. (Sounds way cooler when I say it that way).

I don’t have issues falling asleep.

I have issues staying asleep.

After a few hours of deep sleep, I mysteriously wake up. There isn’t a catalyst for this and the timing seems pretty random. I toss and turn for a bit, hoping to be retaken by sweet, sweet slumber. But alas, poor Yorick , I knew sleep well (Really into the Shakespeare quotes today).

I know this happens to a lot of people. They wake up, toss and turn a bit, then fall back asleep. But for me, this is when my ADHD hyper-focusing is at it’s worse.

Can we please not?

By this time, my medication is done for the day and my brain figures it’s time to play.

I stare up at the ceiling for hours, lying there with my brain going a million kilometers an hour thinking of story lines, new characters, game ideas, and ruminating on arguments I lost in high school. This is followed by me begging my brain to stop thinking.

But my brain rarely, if ever, listens to reason.

By this point, I’m now too tired to actually do anything, I can’t put my thoughts to paper and I really can’t do much about high school. I drift back to sleep after 2 or 3 hours, waking up a short time later to get the day started.

Let’s Talk About Writing and Sleep

One of the blessings of this strange occurrence is that my mind comes up with the best ideas in the early morning hours. While I lay there, I can plot entire stories, create fantastic characters, and even think up game campaigns for when I run TTRPGs (stuff like Dungeons and Dragons).

For a very long time, I would let these ideas come and go, as they flitted around my cranium, then kick myself for not being able to remember them in the morning. I knew I had something good that night, why couldn’t remember it? I would try so hard to bring back the tale, the mood, the imagery, all with no luck. In the end, it would be a vague memory that I could only get a few weak ideas back from.

These days, I’ve learned that staying in bed awake for any more than 30 minutes is useless. I know I’ll struggle for hours beyond that point to get back to sleep. So, I get out of bed, head to the computer, or grab some paper and a pen, and start writing, sometimes putting down chapter after chapter, sometimes only ideas and thoughts. This way, I can at least get the ideas out of my head and not worry about if I’m going to remember them in the morning.

Nothing Worse Than A Forgotten Idea

Since I’m now writing down these mid-night ideas, I don’t have the anxiety about whether or not I’ll remember them in the morning. I can head back to bed once my eyelids start drooping and my brain gives up on creating new content, knowing that the ideas are safely written down.

How Does ADHD Affect Sleep?

Research into ADHD and sleep is not as complete as researching into other areas of ADHD. There’s a long history of sleep issues being ignored due to lack of evidence or the ability to measure the outcomes.

But people with ADHD know better. The racing brain, the inability to think about something else, ruminating over and over on some little incident, we know those feelings all too well.

I found this article in ADDitude to be really interesting. Until reading it, I really didn’t have the language to use when talking about these mid-night brain sessions.

So What Is A Guy To Do?

The article suggests a lot of good ideas when it comes to getting to sleep with ADHD. Strict bedtime routines, limiting caffeine before bed, and taking a mild sedative are all things that I use to make sure I can at least fall asleep in the first place. I keep a fairly regular bedtime and I don’t drink coffee past noon (usually).

As for the middle of night creativity sessions? I let them happen, write down what comes out of it and go with the flow, getting as much out of my creativity as possible, allowing me to lie back down finally fall back asleep. If this doesn’t work, I find that a little bit of mindful body scan meditation helps. Paying attention to each body part, starting at my feet, moving upwards while mindfully relaxing that body part, sends a wave of peace and calm through me, and I’m often asleep before reaching my head.

What about you? Do you ever have the middle of the night brain sessions? Do you have a way to settle yourself and get back to sleep? Ever do something amazing with the ideas generated at night? Leave them in the comments section!

2 thoughts on “ADHD And Sleep

  1. Dean Heeran

    It was good to meet you at Can*Con in October last year

    I have the diagnosis also, and I frequently struggle with getting a night’s rest

    To be honest, I often feel guilty when I write late into the night, as it’s incongruent with my other career/life goals. I’m finding it difficult to manage the tradeoff. I guess, to your point, being more accepting and patient with one’s self is important

    Really cool that you get a lot done during that time. Some of my best work is done at 4 AM also. I find I get to sleep better when I fixate on engineering or puzzle-solving tasks

    1. Matthew Villeneuve

      Hi Dean!

      It’s so important for us to be accepting and patient with ourselves.

      As people with ADHD, we’re often told we’re lazy or don’t try hard enough, and that, weirdly, gives us permission to believe them and tell ourselves they’re right.
      It’s okay that you like to write late at the night and you shouldn’t feel guilty if that is when you do your best work! We all want to do our best, and as writers, we have to listen to our muse when they appear. And they can appear at some really inconvenient hours.

      I never thought of trying puzzle solving as a way to find better sleep, I’ll give it try soon (probably tonight, if I’m being honest!)
      Hope to see you at the next Can*Can!

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