Creating an ADHD bedtime routine was a struggle for me. Routine used to be a dirty word in my house. I would create a routine, get bored, and fall out of love with it. Then I would feel like I failed. Then I would try again with a new routine. This repetition made me feel like I was on a perpetual treadmill, running and running but getting nowhere.
Do you have a bedtime routine?
Many of us don’t have a set bedtime, we didn’t even like bedtime as children. That structure and routine is something that many of us with ADHD fight against. Why? Routine loses its appeal and turns into a mundane set of rules that we can’t see the point of. At the same time, our bodies function well under a bit of structure. It may be time to revisit the idea of going to bed at a regular time and developing a ritual or routine around it. If you’re not getting a full 7-9 hours and you’re not getting solid quality sleep, that is even more important. So how do we hit the happy medium between colorless routine and variety so we can get the sleep we need so badly? Let’s explore the idea of an ADHD bedtime routine.
Why you need a bedtime routine
Sleeping through the night is important because it leaves you rejuvenated and ready to attack the day that lays ahead of you. Even more important for the ADHD brain because we need that sleep. Not sleeping leaves us feeling groggy, foggy-brained, and distracted. We definitely don’t need that, ADHD does enough of that for us. A sleep routine can help to give your body the rhythm it needs to function in top form.
Getting in rhythm will prioritize sleep
Nobody has to tell you, you KNOW how important sleep is to your body. We all have been guilty of trying to supplement caffeine and sugar for what a solid night’s sleep will do for us. A solid ADHD bedtime routine will ensure that you have plenty of time to sleep. In order to prioritize sleep, we have to do what we can to minimize distractions.
The trick is that in the quiet time of sleep, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of doing “one more thing” before bed. One more show on Netflix. Another chapter of a book. One last scroll through social media. Sleep loses the battle to our need for stimulation more nights than we’d care to admit. Routines are there to help remedy those habits and add healthy habits in. Getting into these habits isn’t always easy, but once you’ve established it, it becomes easier to prioritize sleep.
Key elements of a successful ADHD bedtime routine
- It must be simple – the more steps, the more frustration, confusion, and desire to procrastinate. If you have a ten-step bedtime routine, you’ll dread getting started going through the paces when you’d rather play another level of a video game or watch a good internet argument. 3-5 steps should be the maximum.
- Make it pleasant – One of my favorite parts of my routine is my face wash routine. It too is simple, about three steps. But the product feels amazing and it smells amazing and when I wipe the day off of my face I feel fresh and ready to settle down. What feels pleasant and relaxing to you? Incorporate that into your routine. Unpleasant = not stimulating. Not stimulating=lack of cooperation from your ADHD brain.
- Leaves you prepared – Some of us like to be sure that our evening routine leaves us prepared for the morning that surely is coming. What can you do that the future you will thank you for? Consider doing something like preparing the next day’s clothing choice or putting what you need for tomorrow within convenient reach.
Trouble spots in your ADHD bedtime routine
Next, let’s talk about creating an entire bedtime routine around the regular bedtime. With little children this usually involves calming down, changing into PJs, brushing teeth, and reading a bedtime story. For adults, it’s not all that different. Stay off the computer, tablet, TV, and even smartphone for the hour before bedtime. If staying off is impossible (sometimes it is for me) that’s ok, we’ll talk about that in a second.
Fixing the trouble spots
Instead, find something calming and relaxing to do like taking a warm shower, or sipping a hot cup of tea while reading a book. Do something that relaxes you and helps you wind down. For some of us, that something is watching TV or playing on our smartphones. Fair enough. If being on your phone is relaxing and stimulating to you, ask yourself how you can minimize the things that get you really fired up. For me, if I’m on social media close to bedtime, I’m sure to encounter at least one thing that infuriates me and keeps me up past bedtime.
What gets you TOO stimulated? Avoid those types of tasks on your phone an hour before bed. Work, social, those things. Play a game, do some light reading, do anything but suck yourself back into the day that has passed or into the one that lies ahead of you in the morning. Change into PJs and keep your bedroom a distraction-free zone that’s meant for sleeping. Brush your teeth, turn down the lights, and read a few pages or listen to some soothing music or an audiobook before turning everything off and going to sleep. I get that sitting still is boring. Find something you can do with your hands. Color or fidget with a fidget toy. Create some kind of self-care routine that you can do at this time. Any way you look at it, low or no electronics is the best route.
You need alternate routines for the future
Like every other routine, you will eventually fall out of love with this one. You’ll find yourself getting out of practice, or lingering longer over things you’d rather be doing, putting bedtime off. Before you know it, you’ll be back to staying up later, and suffering for it the next day.
Here’s the thing: If you know what has worked in the past with a routine, and you know that your current routine has gotten stale, what is there to stop you from going back to an old routine? With the passage of time, old routines can become new again. Or not. You’ll know which one makes the most sense for you in the moment. Trust yourself, you have way more answers than you think.
Don’t ditch your bedtime routine completely on the weekend
Most of us already have a wake-up routine in the morning during the workweek. That’s a great start. Adding in a regular bedtime shouldn’t be too hard and it will help to get out of bed in the morning easier. Set a time and make yourself stick to it. Now comes the hard part. You have to do your best to stick to the same routine on the weekend. Resist the temptation to stay up late and sleep in on Saturday and Sunday. You’ll mess up the natural waking and sleeping rhythm you’re getting yourself into. There are times when that can’t be avoided, but remember this isn’t about perfection. You’re striving to meet this routine most of the time, not all of the time.
Incorporating a new routine is like learning a dance. You wouldn’t expect to know all the steps overnight, would you? View this incorporation of routine as a practice too.
Tools to help you keep your routine
Alexa or another smart home device – You’ve heard me rave about how much I love Alexa on social media, and of course like everywhere else, she is helpful to me in the bedtime department, from reminding me of what time I need to get into bed, to turning the lights down/off at night to cue me to start moving toward slumberland.
A calming app – There is a huge market for apps that help you with meditation, binaural sounds, and more. Use these apps when you just can’t keep your hands off your phone.
White noise – Whether it is a gentle rain shower, a fan, or the sound of snow on the TV, white noise has been all of the rage for some time now. Find yourself a white noise app or YouTube video, you won’t regret it. While you’re on YouTube, try ASMR. It can be incredibly relaxing.
Warm bath – This is one of my favorites, and I keep a special bubble bath just because I love baths so much.
Idea dump in a notebook or an app – If your mind is racing and full of ideas, a way to bring yourself some peace is to write those ideas down. Keep a notebook to idea dump right on the spot and clear your mind so you can rest your body.
Cleaning the room – I sleep worse in a messy room. There’s a tolerable level of mess, and then there’s the mess that makes me angry and distracted and grouchy. If my bedroom has reached this level, I MUST clean it or suffer the consequences.
By sticking to a simple and fairly short routine, you’re signaling your body that it’s time to go to sleep. After a few weeks of sticking to this new bedtime habit, you’ll find it easier and quicker to fall asleep. Your overall quality of sleep will improve as well as your body gets used to this rhythm. Give it a try and see if you can’t improve your quality and quantity of sleep and more importantly your quality of life with a good bedtime routine. Here are a few of my own sample routines just to give you an idea of what I meant.
Bedtime Routine 1
Wind down for an hour
Write out the plan for tomorrow
Warm bath and then to bed.
Bedtime routine 2
Watch an episode or two of my favorite show.
Shower and bed
Have fun and experiment
I really hope that you have a great time trying out your own ADHD bedtime routines. Think about what you need most in your day, and put that into action. Eliminate what you don’t need. Remember, this is an experiment to find what works best for YOU. That means you’re going to try things that work really well from the start, and some things that don’t work at all. Take a look at what isn’t working and use that to inform your choices moving forward. Find ways to incorporate more of what DOES work. You’ve got this in the bag!
Until next time,