Personal health is often a low priority for people with ADHD. Lack of organizational skills and an inability to prioritize make it difficult to establish and maintain the structures and routines needed to sustain good health habits. Because staying healthy has a positive effect on everyone—especially people with ADHD—it needs to be a goal, and strategies for achieving and sustaining a healthy lifestyle need to be incorporated into your life.
But even if you’re determined to live a healthy lifestyle, along come the holidays to interfere with established routines. For many people, it becomes even more difficult to keep up with things like getting enough sleep, exercising and eating regularly, eating healthy foods, taking medications regularly, and keeping up on personal hygiene.
Here are a few strategies I recommend to my clients that can help at any time of year. You may find them particularly helpful now when there’s even more temptation to burn that midnight oil.
Create (and stick to) wind-up and wind-down routines.
Waking up on time hinges on going to bed on time and getting a good night’s rest. Set routines to help you “wind up” in the morning and “wind down” at night. They can consist of anything from showering and watching the nightly news each night, or having coffee and reading the paper each morning. The idea is to ritualize the routines you have created around getting up and going to bed.
Wake up and go to bed at set times.
Establishing consistent times for sleeping and waking really works! Don’t keep irregular hours, even on the weekends—especially during the holidays. Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. This will increase the quality of your sleep by letting your body enter into a rhythm, and help to de-stress you by knowing when your day starts and ends. Not everyone requires the same amount of sleep, but consistency is the key, so establish a routine and stick to it.
Know what your traps are.
Problems with transitions can contribute to the struggle of going to bed and waking up. Because people with ADHD struggle with ending one activity and starting another, it’s important for you to know your traps and be vigilant in avoiding them. If you know that talking on the phone, watching TV, or checking e-mail keeps you up past your bedtime, post signs reminding you to stick to your schedule. For example, don’t allow yourself to go on the computer or answer the phone past nine o'clock at night. Ask for help from those around you so they know not to distract you from your goal. I had one client who knew he would sit and read for hours in his home office, losing track of time, so he bought light timers and set them to turn off all the lights in his office, jolting him into closing his book and going to bed.
Set a bedtime alarm.
Use a wristwatch with an alarm or set an alarm clock in your home to go off one hour before bedtime so you have time to get ready.
Have a system for waking up and staying up.
Always have a back-up system—use three alarms if necessary! Set one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, and one in the kitchen. If you turn off the one by your bed, you’ll still have the other two ringing, forcing you to get up and turn them off. Or switch off with a friend, calling each another in the morning, and commit to it. The buddy system works.
Other strategies some of my clients use involve their senses: pre-setting their coffeemaker to go off so the aroma can reach them, or purchasing alarm clocks with dawn lights that gradually fill the room with bright light. Some even sleep with their shades open so the morning light will wake them up.
Whether you're trying to stay on a healthy track this season, or just beginning to recognize how good health habits improve your ability to manage ADHD, I hope you'll find these strategies helpful. Here's to healthy and happy holidays!