We know that sleep is critical for effective functioning. Sure, we can get by on almost no sleep if the need is great enough (cram for a major test or deadline report, new baby in the house, binge-watch Game of Thrones, etc.).
However, keep up the sleep-deprivation and there’s no getting around the consequences:
- Feeling tired with a lack of physical energy and slower response time (driving hazard).
- Low energy, making it harder to activate on tasks (whether work-related, going to the gym or even doing the dishes!)
- Mental sluggishness, so its more difficult to make decisions, problem-solve or transition between activities.
- Physical, not just cognitive concerns. Research shows that sleep helps repair our cells, tissues, hormonal and immune systems, so lack of it creates links to many chronic diseases and conditions—including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.
Unfortunately, for many people — especially those with ADHD — sleep can be problematic. Sleep challenges include staying up late to finish the stuff you didn’t get to during the day… or because night is your most productive time… or you crave some ‘down time’ or quiet time… or you find it difficult to fall asleep because your brain keeps working… or your stimulant meds haven’t left your system… or you are tired, go to bed then get a sudden burst of energy… or you have an out-of-sync circadian rhythm, where you get tired later and may really struggle with getting up at the expected time.
You might have sleep-onset insomnia (I’ve read that 50% of adolescents with ADHD have it), or sleep-maintenance insomnia (difficulty getting a restful night’s sleep). There’s even a disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, aka The Night Owl Effect (my term for DSPS, coined as I write this at 2am <g>).
If you live in a bit of a vacuum and can set your own schedule to get up later, sleep variances are not as problematic (although some research shows this still affects health and weight). However, most people need to get to sleep in order to get up by a certain time. Creating healthy sleep hygiene, or rituals, helps create better sleep, with all of the benefits. So here are a bunch of tips and strategies to help.
TIPS & STRATEGIES to Get to Sleep
Start by setting an intention that getting to sleep at a specified time is actually something you want to do. Talk is cheap when weighed against, “I don’t feel like it.” Think about the benefits you’ll gain (from feeling more alert in the morning to time for a comforting nighttime cuddle with your partner), so your focus is positive (gain, not loss).
Decide on a realistic bedtime. If you tend to stay up until 3am, setting a 10pm bedtime is less likely to be successful than gradually weaning down the hours.
Create a consistent bedtime ritual. Figure out what you do to prepare for bed, and standardize the procedure. Make a list to create an SOP (standard operating procedure), so you won’t forget the details. Link new habits to ones you already have (like brushing your teeth then getting into bed and reading for 30 minutes before mandatory lights off).
As part of your bedtime routine, reduce morning stress by making sure you have everything ready for getting out of the house on time (if that’s an issue for you).
Note: Parents need to be firm about enforcing their child’s bedtime, while making time for their nightly bedtime ritual (bath, books, hugs, etc.). If they are young, create a page with illustrated steps and post it where they’ll see it.Try to keep the same bedtime and ritual on weekends, with only occasional exceptions.
Avoid sleep disturbing activities. These include late-day exercise (although some people say that helps them to sleep), heavy meals and screens.
- Numerous studies show that, apart from the mental stimulation the activity creates, the blue light emitted by computers, tablets, TVs, phones, etc. is itself stimulating. So turn off the electronics an hour before bedtime. If you can’t, use screen software or glasses with special lenses that eliminate blue light.
- Some people believe that eliminating ELF electric fields and magnetic fields during sleep is important to optimize cellular regeneration, so turn off those devices or move them out of the bedroom.
- While having an alcoholic drink before bed may help you go to sleep quickly, realize that it is a depressant and affects REM sleep, so you won’t sleep as deeply.
- If you think medication is keeping you awake, tell your doctor. Perhaps an adjustment can be made in dosage, timing or type of med. Caffeine can affect sleep for up to six hours. However, for some people with ADHD, a low dose of their stimulant or caffeine can sometimes help them to sleep by slowing down their overactive minds.
Consider natural sleep aids, like certain herbal teas such as chamomile, or blends specifically for bedtime. Some people occasionally take melatonin or valerian root to help them get to sleep, but these are not right for everyone. Most melatonin supplements contain much more than is needed, and a half or third dose is said to be as effective. Tart cherries have similar properties. GABA and CBD (cannabidiol) oil are recommended by some nutritionists to improve deep sleep.
Breathe deeply and stretch before sleep. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests using the “The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise,” also called “The Relaxing Breath,” to promote better sleep. This is based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath.”
Comfort your senses. Many people are sensitive to:
- Sound. “White noise” can be soothing and block out other sounds. Use a fan or white noise machine. Listen to environmental sounds (available online, but find ones that work for you or they can have the opposite affect!). Try listening to music or guided meditations specifically designed to assist the sleep process.
- Light. Consider room-darkening shades and dim LCD displays.
- Visual. Think of a few enjoyable and peaceful images you can visualize as you drift off, or buy a calming graphic and hang it near the bed. Associate these with sleep.
- Smell. Scents like lavender are very relaxing for some, so experiment with scented oils on your pillow or use a room diffuser.
- Touch. Are your sheets comfortable? How about your pillows? Do you prefer a heavier cover (some people find this soothing) or a very light one? Is it time for a new mattress? You spend a lot of time in bed. Make it as welcoming as possible.Temperature. Sometimes an adjustment (heat, air conditioning, fan, open window) makes for a more comfortable night’s sleep.
- Environment. People tend to sleep better in an uncluttered, clean environment. Try to keep ‘stuff’ out of the bedroom (think of it as a sanctuary, if possible), and make a quick pick-up part of your evening routine.
Quiet your mind, and the body will follow.
- Begin your bedtime routine with conscious relaxation: take a walk… enjoy a bubble bath… read inspirational books or a good romance… practice mindfulness… or whatever works for you.
- Use the bed for sleeping (or sex). Avoid working in bed or watching TV (at least not for 60 minutes before bedtime). Try the Pavlovian approach: See bed, go to sleep!
- Discourage conversation and engagement. Right before bed isn’t the time for phone calls or text conversations. Certainly not for checking Facebook or any social media. If your child (or spouse) picks lights-out as the time to converse, don’t buy into it (unless there’s some important emotional issue going on that can’t wait). Avoid discussion: just state that you’ll talk about it in the morning, when you can give them your full attention. If mornings aren’t going to work, set a time that will. Then follow-through.
- If bedtime is when you tend to obsess about anything negative that happened during the day, take a few minutes to write it all down – then try to let it go, at least for the night. Research shows that when we give brief thought to a problem before sleep, our minds often work through the answer while we get our rest, so a two-for-one benefit! (A good study tip as well.)
- Make thinking about things an early part of your bedtime ritual. If bedtime is the first time you have a chance to just think, it can keep you awake. So before you actually get into bed, sit and allow yourself time to review your day and plan for the next day. I highly recommend making a habit of review and planning to increase productivity and decrease forgetfulness! Keep a pad or planner handy to write down your thoughts, or dictate a memo into your phone with the things you have/want to do. Writing things down clears your brain and facilitates getting tasks accomplished. Allow yourself 15 minutes to obsess over them, or over any problems, real or self-generated. Then wave your magic wand (use a back-scratcher in a pinch) and take a page from Gone With the Wind – “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
- End your day on a positive note. After you’ve done your ‘mind dump,’ take the time to write down three things you ‘did good’ that day. It’s easy to remember where you messed up, but it’s worth the effort to remember those things you did well, or at least better than you did in the past. Sometimes, just getting out of bed and taking a shower is an accomplishment. Now, look outside of yourself and add three things to your gratitude journal. Seems minor, but this small action can have a monumental impact on your mood, and lead to better sleep.
Enjoy a restful, energizing sleep tonight!
If you’ve found ways to make sleep your friend, share them in a comment!
If you’d like to discuss your specific situation with me, click here to schedule a no-cost or obligation 20-minute coaching consult.
Feel free to share this post, with attribution to: Susan Lasky – Productivity, ADHD, Career and Organization Coach – www.SusanLasky.com
Tips to Conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder
Magical holidays? Not for everyone. We’re supposed to feel festive… energetic… excited! We’re supposed to look forward to the New Year with anticipation and, well, happiness – it is ‘Happy New Year,’ right? So, why does this time of year create so much stress and anxiety? Why are so many people exhausted, even depressed under their cheery façades?
Since the first step in working through a problem is to recognize, define and accept it, let’s face it – the holiday season CAN be fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Especially this year, with the intense political discord and the many natural disasters. So give yourself a break!
Sure, there are tons of positive things about the holidays, including the window displays, the festivity, the spirituality and the family bonding. But there are also tons of stressors, like the time and effort of preparing for family gatherings, parties, travel arrangements, shopping, the additional expenses, rush to complete work projects, etc.
First it’s the Thanksgiving gathering (if you have people with whom you gather, and if you don’t, you might feel a sense of isolation). Having people over, for the somewhat disorganized, can be a time-consuming quagmire. It isn’t just the meal prep; it’s clearing the paper clutter off the dining table and finding hiding spots for the various piles of stuff. And the traveling doesn’t help – especially if stuck in holiday traffic (I admit it; I’ve skipped family events to avoid a two-hour traffic jam).
Thanksgiving Day immediately segues into the holiday buying frenzy, with its extra expenses and the stress of gift-buying, magnified by the pressure of getting those perfect bargains during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (now week-long, or longer, events). This is further complicated by the anxiety caused by FOMO – fear of missing out, whether it’s the sale of the century or that special party invite. Who has invited you where (and who hasn’t)? How should you reciprocate? What should you wear? And woe if you’ve gained or lost weight and don’t feel attractive in the holiday clothes you have! Even the lack of sunlight can darken the mood of people with a degree of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
Then there are the interpersonal issues. Whether it’s home for the holidays and dealing with complicated family relationships, or the feelings of loss when you think about missing loved ones or the lack of a significant other with whom to share a New Year’s kiss. There is also the double-edged pleasure of having children home from school, especially if you still have to work. And magnify the difficulty if you have children who get easily overwhelmed or overly excited by a disruption of their routine.
On a more subtle note, there’s a sense of judgement. The year is about to end, and what have you accomplished? Sometimes it’s external evaluations at work, which may, or may not, include raises and bonuses. But often it’s an internal sense of “I planned to do more…“. Unfortunately, we tend to dwell more on what we didn’t do than celebrate everything we did accomplish. Like a birthday, the upcoming New Year is a passage, and an opportunity (welcome or not) to pause and look at where we are in life.
I can go on, but now that it’s really clear you have valid reasons to feel Holiday Anxiety Disorder, let’s switch to what we can do differently to have a better, more fulfilling holiday season.
Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’
Many of us dwell in a mental world of how things should be. Relationships are warm, fuzzy and supportive. Money is not a concern. We’re easily able to leap tall buildings, which represents any obstacle, whether preparing a holiday meal or completing a work project early and under budget. Our children are always a joy, and our parents are never a problem. Realistically, we know that’s ridiculous. But there’s a part of us that wants it to be that way, and thinks it should be that way. Until we embrace imperfection and still delight in ourselves and others – despite our failings, and theirs – we’re doomed to feel like failures.
Practice Intentional Rejuvenation
Schedule in ‘ME’ time. Consider it as My Energy; time to recharge. It might mean a massage, distraction-free time to read, draw, play the guitar or go for a walk – whatever recharges your sense of self, so you’ll have more to give to others. If you spend too much time alone, working or taking care of your family, plan get-togethers with friends. Let go of the guilt that comes from having too little time to get things done or take care of others, so you give even less to yourself. As the airlines say, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before you worry about others.’ Keep in mind that self-care is not the same as ME time. Things like going to the gym are important for self-care, but there aren’t ME time, unless you love going to the gym!
Put Your Health First
Alas, that includes getting enough sleep, eating right, staying hydrated and exercising. These are all critical for real self-care. They take effort, but the payoff is that you’ll have more energy, and feel a lot less stressed. And for those of us with ADHD, depression or anxiety, these have proven, brain-based benefits. Studies show that spending some time in nature, even in winter, helps positivity. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Use natural daylight bulbs. And consider appropriate supplements, like Vitamin D and Omega-3.
Give Yourself Permission
It’s okay to decline an invitation. It’s okay to serve fewer choices at a meal or have less elaborate holiday decorations. And it’s okay to ask for help.
This might be the dollar amount or the number of gifts you’ll purchase. It might mean how much time you’ll spend shopping (maybe the online purchase isn’t as perfect as something you’d pick out in a store, but it’s a lot easier!). Also, consider how you can say no to unacceptable behavior, whether from a child, friend or family member. This also applies to work. Learn to say NO to yourself! Perfectionism destroys productivity. Be realistic in terms of what you can accomplish in a given time, and what you can’t. Have clear priorities and learn to self-advocate.
Write down your frustrations – it’s better than taking them out on others, or yourself. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you have, and what you’ve done. Keep a list of what you can do differently next year, and a reminder of what you’ve done that works. (Don’t count on remembering anything, although do try to remember where you keep your Journal and lists!)
Pause – Breathe – Appreciate
Life is a collection of moments, so capture those moments by being truly present. Mindfulness is a way of staying centered, and when we’re centered in the moment we can’t be disappointed by the past or anxious about the future.
It’s extremely rare when everything works as planned. Stuff happens. Being flexible and building in the expectation that there will be occasional breakdowns and meltdowns makes it easier to deal with them when they (inevitably) happen, and increases the likelihood that your holidays will be successful!
Focus on the Positive
In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™, Step 3 is ‘Believe in Possibility, and that you always have the Power of Choice.’ When you truly believe that you will have a wonderful, fulfilling holiday season, and that the upcoming year will be your best one yet, you dramatically increase the likelihood it will be. Positive thinking is critical to successful action. How we think absolutely affects what we attract in our lives.
Plan for Success
A positive attitude is essential, but achieving goals is more likely when there’s also a plan in place. It’s helpful to have clarity as to goals and priorities, and the steps you’ll take to reach them, whether it’s planning for December 25th, New Year’s Eve or the upcoming year. If you need help with your Success Plan, let me know!
Have the Happiest of Holidays!!!
What are your tips to conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder? I’d love to see them, so share them on my blog.
This article may be reposted, only with the following attribution:
Written by Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function & Organization Coach. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions, www.SusanLasky.com. Used with permission.
Frustrated by the gap between knowing what you should/want/need to get done and the reality of what you are actually accomplishing? For many people, this is a chronic struggle – especially those with ADD/ADHD/EF (executive function) challenges, myself included! Even when we are at the top of our game there’s still a backlog that can approach critical mass. Do you wonder what the top of your game would be if you could be more Nike™-like and ‘Just Do It.’ Fortunately, there ARE strategies that help, and here are a few:
Begin with Clarity – Know exactly what you plan to do AND why you want to do it. Maybe it’s because you need to get something done, but by phrasing it as something you want (even if the reason is to keep your job, pass a course or stay on speaking terms with your partner), it becomes your CHOICE, and our motivational circuits work a lot better when we choose to do something. So convert your ‘have-to’s’ ‘must-do’s’ and ‘need-to’s’ to ‘WANT-TO’s.’
Confusion by Susan Lasky
Think ‘Task’ NOT ‘Project’ – Often, what we want to do is too big to accomplish in a single sitting, leading to a feeling of overwhelm. For many of us, overwhelm is a trigger to shutting down and doing less, rather than ‘attacking’ the project to successfully accomplish it. Our brain perceives the situation as threatening, and shifts into the protective ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, which doesn’t help with getting things done.
Avoid overwhelm by identifying the PROJECT (it might be to redo the files, create a newsletter, plan a vacation, organize the closet, write the thesis, ‘do’ the taxes). Whatever it is, break it down into the multiple small steps (TASKS) that are needed to complete the project.
The first task of any project is to create a written Project Sheet that specifies everything you’ll need to get it done, from resources needed (information, people, money, tools) to a step-by-step breakdown of each action, with approximations of the time you’ll need for each step – then double it (or more). Reinforce the steps by writing them down and saying them out loud. Keep the Project Sheet where you can easily refer back to it. (Think weekly and daily planning/review sessions, which take time but totally save you hours!)
Set a Conscious Intention (Commitment) – Once you are clear about WHAT you will do, decide WHEN you’ll get it done – PRIORITIZE. Put each step in your calendar or planner as a Task-Appointment, which is an appointment with yourself to work on a specific task at a specific time.
Saying ‘yes’ without saying ‘when’ is a typical precursor to not getting things done. Consider posting a reminder with the specific task you have prioritized, in a place that will draw your attention back to it when it begins to wander (and accept that it will wander!). You might want to expand your declared focus to prioritize an entire day or a week, “This week I will finish …” This doesn’t mean you won’t do other things, but it helps to swing you back to your key priority when your attention drifts or your interest wanes.
Make it Do-Able – It often helps to set a timer for a short amount of time so you don’t feel ‘trapped.’ It is easier to start something if you know you only have to stay focused on it for 20 minutes (or 15… or 10!). If you don’t complete the task within the time you’ve allotted, that’s okay. Congratulate yourself for having done what you said you would, then set additional Task-Appointments to finish what you’ve successfully begun. Take breaks between scheduled appointments. Some people find background music makes it easier to stay focused (volume and genre do matter!).
Minimize Distractions – Put on your blinders and resist temptation by making it less intrusive. Turn off email notifications, and even the phone if possible. Put a sign on your door that you will be available at 3:30 (or whenever), to minimize interruptions. Use a chalk or white board so visitors can leave messages. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt from the other projects that need your attention, so you can successfully focus on one at a time. (I’m a brilliant multi-tasker, as long as I only work on one task at a time!)
We can’t quite turn off our brain (although a few minutes of mindful focus before you begin the work can help), so keep a ‘parking lot’ handy – a place to write down the thoughts that pop up and can compromise your focus. You don’t want to forget to make that call, send an email, pick up the dry cleaning, order a replacement phone charger, etc., and these are the things that will often pop into your mind while doing something else. You will think about it, so capture these thoughts in writing or tell it to Siri, OK Google, Alexa or your phone companion. Then you don’t need to shift your attention away from your project in order to remember to do it.
Start Small – When you are REALLY stuck, just open the notebook or computer file and look at the page or screen. Then put your pen to paper or fingers to keypad. They may start moving of their own volition. If not, commit to writing just one sentence, which often opens the gateway to moving forward. Or pull out a folder and skim the papers. Or make a list of what you think you should be doing. It’s the ACTIVATION that’s so difficult. Sometimes, all it takes is a minimal start to trigger our brains to become involved with something we’ve been avoiding. And remember how good it feels to get something done!
Take Breaks & Make Time for Self-Care – Avoid ‘overbooking.’ Often, less IS more. Leave ‘white space’ in your day. Especially when you have things to do in the evening or over the weekend. Leave time between Task-Appointments (if you work for 20 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then a longer break every two hours or so). Get up and MOVE (keeps the energy flowing). This is easy to forget when in hyper-focus mode, where we can work for hours on something because we are so caught up in it. Try to remember the law of diminishing returns (and ask yourself what is not getting done that is also important.
Take care of yourself! SELF-CARE is often the first thing to go when we feel there is too much to do.
Stop and Smell the Flowers by Susan Lasky
Yet self-care provides the physical AND mental energy to accomplish more. Think about it – how much more cognitively alert and productive are you after a good night’s SLEEP? Multiple studies are showing that our body and brain use sleep as a time to recharge, including eliminating toxins, so it isn’t, as many feel, a ‘necessary evil,’ but part of the productive process.
We know that EXERCISE boosts our body chemistry so we are more functional (and ofter a lot less ‘hyper’ or ‘antsy’). So fit some version of it into your schedule (again, less is often more if it means you’ll actually do it – sometimes our exercise goals may be somewhat unrealistic). DRINK a lot of water (hydrate). SNACK on fruit or have a protein shake. A quick NAP or MEDITATION can be super-restorative. Science is proving that time spent OUTSIDE in greenery can dramatically enhance our mood. (The Japanese even have a concept for this called ‘Forest Bathing.’) Yet when we feel ‘behind,’ as is so typical, we deny ourselves these self-care actions that boost our brain chemistry and pay us back with increased focus and productivity.
We NEED and DESERVE to ENJOY ourselves. Take a break to play with your kids or your dog (laughter totally energizes). Pet the cat and let the purring calm your brainwaves. Allow yourself time to garden, paint, create music or anything that comforts your soul. Have lunch with friends or make some private time with your partner, and you’ll usually get MORE done – and feel less deprived or annoyed by having to do the work in the first place!
Accountability Helps – Don’t try to go it alone. Report your progress to a non-judgmental accountability-partner, whether a friend, family member or coach, or consider joining an Accountability Group. (Check out my Get Around TUIT online action group at www.OvercomeOverwhelm.com)
Here’s an accountability strategy that is especially appealing to the tech-savvy. I ask some of my coaching clients to take a photo of their progress and text it to me. It might be a completed page in their planner, homework assignment or business plan, an organized desktop, newly labeled files or an emptied suitcase from last month’s trip – whatever supports their intention at the end of our last coaching session. If they said they would join a study group, go to the library or attend a networking event, I ask for an on-location ‘selfie.’ The photo is fun, helps them to feel more motivated and gives ‘instant’ feedback as to a job well done – not from me, but from their camera 🙂 It is a testament to their success! You can use this accountability strategy with yourself or a friend.
Commit to a Daily Action Plan, which is different than your 50-page ‘To-Do’ list. It has space for just your 3 primary actions and, if you finish those, 3 secondary activities. If you want to check out my Daily Focus form, you can download it here.
Be a Detective – The best strategies may not work for you, or may work for only a short time (so frustrating, but that’s reality). It is okay to acknowledge you are stuck. Maybe you need new tools, techniques or strategies, or just to tweak the ones you’ve been using. Perhaps you would benefit from a greater understanding of how to do something – a workable office requires an understanding of functional organization, and systems that work with the way YOU think – especially for those of us who are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinkers. Maybe you’ve been struggling with writing papers because you never really mastered the process from a technical perspective (organization, time and project management and keeping a check on perfectionism!). Perhaps you would benefit from a better system for managing your emails or running meetings.
So now, imagine that you’re solving your problem, but for a friend or colleague. When we take the emotional component out of the equation, it’s often easier to come up with a workable solution. Things can be different, but how to effect successful change? (Step #3 in my PowerPlan to Success: Believe in Possibility, and that you always have a Choice.) Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know, and help is needed.
You may benefit from hands-on advice, situational coaching, or exploring the underlying causes that create or compound your challenges. These can include emotional issues, physical problems, learning disabilities, and executive function or attention disorders that can get in the way of success (and here you wasted so much energy blaming yourself for lack of willpower!). Perhaps you struggle with perfectionism, are overly self-critical, feel the work you do isn’t ‘good enough,’ or subconsciously sabotage your success. Remember that it shows strength to work with a consultant, organizer, tutor, coach or therapist to get at the roots of these chronic challenges.
Be Kind to Yourself … Please!!! That’s the most important thing I can leave you with. Studies show that the more you accept yourself, the more productive – and happier – you’ll be!
I’m curious. What do YOU find helps to get things done?
Want to know more?