People with ADHD commonly have significant sleep issues, and couples impacted by ADHD often have radically different sleep schedules, with the ADHD partners being night owls and sometimes sporadic sleepers, and exhausted non-ADHD partners often falling into bed at a very early hour. Here’s how ADHD-impacted couples can do much better in this area.
First, Why is Sleep Important…and How Do You Get More?
Tara Parker-Pope, the leader of the excellent “Well” blog, has put together a really excellent overview of the science around sleep and getting more sleep. She reviews the physiology of why sleep is so important, and how to get better sleep. In addition to what she writes, know that sleep is particularly important for those with ADHD, as sleep deprivation (anything under 7 hours for adults) contributes to a significant increase in the severity of ADHD symptoms. I don't need to reinvent the wheel...go to this link for the latest on sleep.
And with ADHD? The Actions that Lead to the Bedtime Wars
Bedtime is an important time to connect for many couples, as it is sometimes the only time when kids are asleep and you have a chance to just focus on each other. But choices and habits around this time of day mean that couples can end up in the bedtime wars. Typical reasons include:
- Night owl ADHD partners choose to take advantage of the quiet to get work done – but by doing so are putting work ahead of their relationship or partners
- ADHD partners might lose track of time while relaxing (watching tv, working on hobbies) and not make it to bed. If non-ADHD partners remind them, that’s parenting.
- One partner feels it’s not important to go to bed together, while the other one views this as prime couple time
- Exhausted non-ADHD partners simply can’t stay awake longer to wait up for night-owl partners, but this may add to resentment about ADHD partners being able to pay attention to whatever is importat at night, though not chores and other 'helpful' tasks
- Sometimes, ADHD partners intentionally avoid going to bed until after the non-ADHD partner is asleep in order to avoid difficult conversations or cuddling with someone who has recently hurt them with parenting behaviors. My husband admits did this for a while, though at the time he would have told you it was because he had so much work.
Why Night is So Important
Forget about sex for a moment. Night is important for couples because it is one of the few times of the day in which partners can interact with fewer distractions. This is critical in households impacted by ADHD, and in every household that is busy. That means YOURS! Every couple needs ‘attend time’ in their relationship – time when they are just the two of them and can feel loved – and before bed is prime time for that. At night, 'attend time' might mean talking about the good things in their day or in each other. It might mean reading quietly next to each other or meditating together to have a calm finish to the day. It might mean cuddling or sex. The bedroom is a place for positive interactions of all kinds…but you have to both be there for any interaction to happen.
Sacred Bed Time
Try this way of getting past the bed time wars - I call it ‘sacred bed time.’ It is based in the premise that this time of day is simply too important for couples to give up, so you need a new way to approach it that respects your physiological ‘time clock’ differences.
- Go up to get ready for bed at either a time you agree to or whenever the earlier to bed person goes up.
- Both get ready for bed, and do something positive together that you enjoy
- When the earlier-to-bed person gets ready to turn out the lights, the later-to-bed person can either stay and go to sleep or get back out of bed to go do something else.
Simple, right? But a very big deal if you have been missing this chance to connect. By observing 'sacred bed time', both partner’s choices and ways of being are respected AND you get time to connect with each other.