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Sleep Issues and ADHD

Daylight savings causing big problems

Hi everyone, I’m a 36 year old ADHD female, and daylight savings time is really screwing me up.

I have sort of “classic” ADHD sleeping problems: I hyperfocus at night, making it difficult to stop what I’m doing, I have a hard time falling asleep, and waking up is an absolute nightmare—once I actually manage not to sleep through the alarm, I’m groggy for hours. I can barely process information before 10 am. I think I basically have a delayed circadian clock. I’m fine with sleeping if it’s on my own terms, going to bed and waking up when it feels right. Unfortunately, as a regular person with a job and other stuff, there’s not many opportunities for that. My sleep problems get worse each year. As a kid, my parents bragged about my miracle sleeping habits, now I’m a disaster.

For the past two years I’ve been working at a job with an old fashioned boss who wants me in at a specific time, even though I am analyst/manger of a department that’s just me and there’s no real need for it. I managed to move him up from 7:30 to 8:30. The problem is, I NEED to work out and get exercise. I can almost never get to the gym in the morning and make it to work by 8:30. This job is also out in the suburbs and I have to drive, so I get no walking or regular exercise during the day. I tried working out after work, but for various reasons (the fact that my brain works best at work later in the day so I work 10-11 days minimum is a big one). As a result, I’ve gotten really out of shape. And of course it’s a vicious cycle—we all know exercise helps you sleep, but I need to sleep and sleep early to be able to exercise. I need to be at the gym by 6 am in order to work out.

So after two of trying and failing to get in workouts with this job I finally, finally! started to make some progress this winter. I was practicing all my sleep hygiene rituals, getting into bed between 9:30 and 10, reading a little, and getting up between 5:30 and 6am to get to the gym (a 10 minute walk away) a few times a week. This is obviously completely against what my body wants to do naturally, and it wasn’t going perfectly smoothly, but it was progress.

Enter daylight savings time. It’s been three weeks now and I am so sleep deprived, I’m a mess. I’m 15-20 minutes late for work every day, forget going to the gym. Everything I am trying only seems to make it worse—the more I concentrate on sleep hygiene, the more anxious I get, the more my mind turns on, and the less I sleep. I just don’t know what to do.

I get home from work between 6:30 and 7:30, but I am making a real effort these days to leave at 5:30 (very hard for the way I focus), in which case I am usually home by 6, 6:30. I usually have to make dinner, eat it, and do the dishes. Sometimes I have some other small chores to do. It is now bright and sunny out the whole time and only gets dark when I’m just starting to wind down for bed. It’s pitch black out when I’m trying to wake up.

A few months back my doctor prescribed .2 mg of Clonodine. It made me really sleepy, but also made me tip over with dizziness all day, so I cut it down to .1mg, that I try to remember to take at 9pm to be in bed by 10. (btw, I also take Adderall XR as soon as I get up in the morning, but I don’t think it is causing these problems).

Once in bed I just can’t get to sleep. The longer I can’t sleep, the more anxious I get, the more awake I am. Since DST started, there have been a few nights where I’ve managed to fall asleep around 11-11:30, but then I’ll wake up at 2:30 and not go back to sleep until about 4:30 (I never used to have this problem). I’ll be passed out cold from 4:30-7:30, getting what I think is REM, and my alarm goes off and just rips me out of it and I’m a basket case for the rest of the day.

Anyway, I know this was REALLY long, I was just wondering if anyone else was having problems with DST and if you know of anything that can help. I pull the shades down in my house and everything, but the sun is telling my body it’s 9 pm instead of 10 pm, you know? All the usual tactics aren’t enough to overpower it this year.

Replies

There’s a good chance you do have delayed sleep phase disorder.  I’ve posted my experiences with that before (you can search my posts for those).

I hate DST like the plague (it’s part of this circadian disorder, as it can be real easy to get thrown off schedule).  The only years I’ve managed to deal with it well are when I’m already on a good schedule and I plan ahead to start waking up a little bit earlier each day a couple weeks before the time change.

One interesting thing I learned from the sleep specialist who I saw was that you can try to do all you possibly can think of at bedtime (sleep hygiene & even sleep meds) but that rarely does anything to actually help reset your internal clock.  And as it sounds like you’ve noticed, the fact that none of that seems to do anything then makes going to bed even more anxiety producing.  Vicious cycle ensues.

The things that drive and truly help to reset your clock are all about the mornings.  It is the early morning sunshine (and getting gobs of it) that determines when your body will produce melatonin later on at night to make you sleepy.

Yes, it’s still a good idea to avoid sunshine & bright lights late in the afternoon-evening.  Yes, sleep hygiene is important.  Yes, taking melatonin or something else can help some.  But to reset your clock it takes getting as much sunlight as early as possible and waking up the exact same time every day (no sleeping in on weekends), and no naps.

Obviously, when the idiot powers that be switch time on us and now it’s pitch black when you wake up and stays that way for a while this totally fouls everything up BIGTIME.  If you live in more northern latitudes it’s worse than living down south.  Down here in Texas we can usually reset our clocks without using a sun lamp (according to the doctor I saw), even in the winter.  Just go outside at the earliest possible time and sit in the sun for 30 minutes straight (no sunglasses)...exact same wake up time 7 days per week.

I’m awake when I should be asleep right now because my internal clock wasn’t doing so great to begin with (not taking doctors advice due to crazy schedule etc) AND I forgot to try to do anything about it until it was too late.  Wish I had a cure for how to fix it after the fact.  When I don’t do it ahead of time I’m guaranteed to have at least three weeks of hell.

Posted by BC on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:15am

Thanks for the reply. It is good to hear from others who can relate. I will check out your other posts. I often feel like people think I’m making this stuff up. I’ve read a lot about circadian “disorders” (I’m a firm believer with anything related to ADHD, “disorder” should be in quotes) and the link to ADHD, but we still live in a world that values early to bed early to rise and it sounds like an excuse to people. It’s weird for me too because this didn’t start until I was about 25, so I was in denial for a long time as well.

Yeah I hear you that none of the usual techniques can reset your clock. Apparently with a delayed circadian clock, even if you are exhausted it doesn’t help you get to sleep earlier. Getting sun in the morning is really what I have to do—even if I don’t have time to go to the gym I need to take a brief walk. I was doing that for a while, but of course it becomes the vicious cycle again—I haven’t been getting up early enough to do that before I have to be at work. And then the driving—my whole live I walked to the subway or rode my bike to work, so I was getting some sun and exercise every morning. Now it’s just like I’m in a metal box.

So last night I wanted to be in bed my 9:30 to hopefully be asleep close to 10. I was about a half hour late, I think I got to sleep a little after 10:30, but I think only because I took a Lorazepam. Usually that stuff makes me sleep like a log, but I was quite restless and woke up a few times, though unlike previous nights I was able to get back to sleep.

I set my alarm for 6 instead of 5:30, which worked out well for me, but not so well for getting to work on time. I felt like I was just coming out of deep sleep right before the alarm went off, which was good—I didn’t feel all discombobbled. However it still took me about 15-20 minutes to “wake up” so by the time I actually got to the gym it was close to 7. I rolled into work a half hour late, but I feel so much better this morning than I have for the past three weeks. I’m still tired, but not too groggy. I’m hoping that making the exercise/sleep needs a priority for one day will start the ball rolling to help with sleep.

So yeah, I will definitely try to get more sun in the morning. Maybe if it ever gets warmer I can open the sun roof on my commute. I live in New England and it is a totally different ballgame than when I lived in the south for a couple years. Interesting about not wearing sunglasses—I ALWAYS wear wrap around polarized sunglasses. Even when it’s not sunny I wear them to protect my eyes from debris (and I have minimal crows feet for someone my age!). But yikes, yeah I will have to try not wearing them for a bit and see if it helps.

Posted by LLB827 on Mar 26, 2014 at 5:54pm

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