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ADHD and Eating; How ADHD Impacts Our Sleep ( 2 of 4)

By Donae Cannon, OTR/L

In the first post of this series, I spoke about the increased risk of developing an eating disorder for those of us with ADHD. I also dug into one of the "whys" that impacted me on my journey (the way I experienced emotions and sensations). Today we are going to look at my "why" number 2- sleep!

ADHD Impacts How We Sleep

Unfortunately, sleep disturbances and ADHD go together like peas and carrots. Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter knows first hand that being sleep deprived makes everything harder the next day.

A night of poor sleep may leave us in zombie mode, but there is another side effect that many of us are not aware of; our missed sleep causes a disruption in the hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. When you are sleep deprived, your body:

  • Produces more ghrelin than usual, increasing your appetite. (Yes, I had to look up how to pronounce ghrelin- turns out the h is just for show)

  • Produces less leptin, a hormone that suppresses your appetite when you have had enough to eat.

  • Produces more cortisol (stress can also do this) which increases your appetite.

So, it's not in your head. You're actually more hungry on less sleep. Sleep deprivation impacts decision making, planning, and frustration tolerance, so it makes it that much harder to make intentional decisions about food- we're likely to be operating in reaction mode. When you add increased hunger to the mix, it's no surprise that chronic sleep deprivation can complicate our relationship with food.

Sleep Tips for ADHD

Make sleep a priority (you were hoping for an easier answer, right?). It's hard to defend our sleep with our busy lives, and ADHD makes this even more complicated. I’m not a sleep expert, but these are some of the things that helped me:

  • Maintain a sleep routine. For me, that means going to bed at roughly the same time at night, using a sound machine to block out noise (6 people and a dog live here- it’s my only hope), and listening to a recorded sleep meditation to downshift into sleep mode.

  • Sign off of screens earlier. Ideally, 45 minutes before bed. You've heard it before, the blue light from our devices disrupts melatonin production, which can impact sleep cycles. (Transparency report: I tend to get off track with this one, but I keep returning to it because I've seen it improve the quality of my sleep).

  • Supplements. Many of us with ADHD have deficiencies in magnesium, so supplementing magnesium can he helpful. Melatonin can also be used to help support sleep cycles, but it's best to check with your doctor for recommendations on how/how long to use it.

  • Calming sensory inputs. Stretching, yoga, and therapy ball massage can all help calm our nervous systems and prepare us for sleep. My favorite is using therapy balls for a myofascial release before bed. Sometimes I will use a weighted blanket to help calm my nervous system and downshift to sleep. (Warning- if you tend to get hot at night, a weighted blanket can pack a serious punch when it's flung off of you. You might want to warn your partner- especially if they lack your appreciation of slapstick humor at 2 am).

  • Rule out other sleep culprits. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, see a specialist! I was diagnosed with sleep apnea at age 40 and the only symptom I had was fatigue (which no one found unusual since I have 4 kids). The right treatment made a big difference in my sleep.

  • Gratitude practice. I don't have any research behind this one, it's just something that works for me when my mind is racing at night. I've tried breathing and other more "passive" relaxation techniques, but that doesn't cut it when I'm in full, jacked-up thought spirals. What has worked for me is shifting my thoughts to the mental task of listing the things I'm grateful for. An active mind is hard to corral, so giving mine a job (that doesn't leave me much room to worry or ruminate) can often shift me from mentally bouncing off of the walls to snoring. (It may be a bad sign that my gratitude list bores me to sleep, but it's a sleep tool, so I'll take it).

I try to prioritize sleep, but there are times life just gets in the way. When I do have a rough night of sleep, I've learned to be gentle with myself, knowing that I'm likely to see a difference in my energy and appetite the next day.

So far, we have looked at how ADHD can impact how we experience emotions, sensations and sleep. My next post will focus on how I experienced my thoughts and why this contributed to my ADHD/ eating disorder risk (as well as a few important tools that I used to build new thought habits). Stay tuned!

You can read the other posts in this series here:

Questions? Feel free to contact me on my website If you are interested in working with me, you can schedule a free discovery call below:

*The information I’m providing in this blog series is based on my personal experiences and the strategies that helped me during my recovery. This is not meant to replace therapeutic interventions or substitute for work with a trained professional. Please get support if you're struggling with an eating disorder, you don't need to do this on your own.*


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