How to Sleep Better to Function Better

Most of us have heard about sleep studies that demonstrate the negative impacts of not getting enough sleep - sluggish cognitive function (akin to being drunk if you average less than you need); increased severity of ADHD symptoms; inability for the brain to clear out the cellular waste products of normal activity; a shortened life span, and more.  

But how do you get more sleep?  Here's what the science says about ways that can help you sleep better.  Use it as a checklist, doing as many of the items as makes sense in your situation.

The Bedroom Environment

Definitely do:

  • Cool temperature
  • Comfortable bedding – for some who are restless, this might included a weighted blanket
  • Very dark room (or use comfortable eye shades) – minimize charger, computer, electronic lights.  No blue or green lights (cover light indicator with black electrical tape if on a charger, etc.)
  • No reading with electronic blue light (computers, tablets, etc.- use a blue light filter such as comes on your device or the app Twighlight if you must use them)


  • Allergy reduction (particularly dust mites)
  • White noise machine or calming noise
  • Noise masking sleep buds, such as Bose to block out snoring, traffic, etc.

Calming Your Mind and Body

Definitely do:

  • Set a ‘window’ for getting to bed 85% of time (ex: 10:00-10:30pm).*  Be as consistent as possible so your body learns the rhythm.
  • Understand your transition.  How long does it take you from the time you decide to go to bed before you actually get into it?  Leave enough time for this routine.
  • Take 2 minutes slow, deep breathing (focus on breath going in and out of your body) with feet on floor, eyes closed before getting into bed.  This helps move your body into “rest and digest’ mode.
  • Exercise, but not in the evening close to bed.  (Rigorous daytime exercise aids sleep.)
  • Make sure ADHD medications aren’t keeping you up (move latest dose earlier in day if they are)
  • Keep a notepad and pen on your nightstand to capture ideas so they don’t keep you up
  • Limit stimulating TV shows right before bed (also, light of TV suppresses melatonin)…turn TV off completely at least 45 minutes before lights out


  • Developing a short mindfulness meditation practice
  • Listening to calming music or noises
  • Doing a progressive muscle relaxation exercise (moving from toes to top of head, visualize relaxing one muscle at a time – eyes closed.)
  • Visualizing a place you find relaxing.
  • Taking 20 minutes before you start your going to bed routine to plan out the next day and lessen anxiety about it.
  • If you take magnesium supplements, consider taking them before bed, as they can aid in sleep

Falling Asleep / Staying Asleep

Definitely do:

  • Drink less alcohol, and not after 8pm (digests as sugar and wakes you up)
  • Eat lighter dinners, and not after 8pm
  • A few minutes of whatever slows your mind down (soft music, crosswords, reading a few pages – NOT online media – something non-anxiety producing and non-stimulating!)
  • Use the power of cuddling and relaxing in your partner’s arms – touch can be a good soother.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night it may be a circadian rhythm issue (rather than really needing a bathroom break).  Deep breathing before bed might help with this.  Deep breathing when you wake up can also be helpful.  In addition, one reason people can’t get back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night is anxiety about falling back to sleep.  Instead of worrying about “oh, no, I might not be able to get back to sleep again!”, just relax into it and think, “this will pass.”
  • Address a partner’s snoring.  Ask your partner to try to lessen it (ex: sleep on side instead of back; drink less; get an evaluation for sleep apnea; use snore strips; get a formed pillow that holds the neck in a better position such as Dr. Bob’s pillow) and consider ear plugs or even moving to another room during snore fests.


  • Taking 3-5 mg of Melatonin
  • Limiting afternoon caffeine (definitely do this if you think it’s keeping you awake!)
  • Managing stimulant medications so that they don’t interfere with sleep – time you latest dose in the day so it wears off before 8:30pm
  • Avoiding afternoon naps
  • A stress management program if the level of stress in your life is keeping you awake at night
  • Replacing coffee or other caffeinated beverages (or some of your coffee, if you drink many cups) with a high quality 120mg Ginko Biloba supplement – this sends incremental blood flow to the brain and may make you more alert.  As with all additions of meds or supplements, double check your meds against this to make sure there are no known potential interactions.

Making Your Body Healthier for Sleep

Definitely do:

  • Eat a healthy, veggie/lean protein diet with lots of fiber and probiotics to support good gut health (connected to good sleep)
  • Lower your stress levels overall – stress hormones interrupt sleep
  • Choose a bedtime that allows you to wake up without an alarm.  If you can’t do, that, you should seek an earlier bedtime


For more information about ways to treat ADHD and lessen ADHD symptoms, visit the treatment section of my website and download the free Optimizing Treatment for ADHD e-book on the home page.

*One way to determine what window is optimal for sleep is to track the quality of your sleep with an app or Fitbit over several weeks.  It will likely show you a timeframe within which you get good quality sleep and the most of it.  It will also likely show you the benefits of exercise for sleep if you are also tracking that.

I have found this useful in learning that I sleep better if I have lights out by 10:15pm. Much later than that and I just don't get the deeper sleep that I need.  Your body will have its own tempo.