YOU MIGHT BE UNDERSTIMULATED.
If you’ve ever found yourself falling asleep doing a boring bit of work, your ADHD brain might be understimulated. Understimulation is when your brain is getting so little dopamine that it effectively turns itself off out of sheer boredrom. You also experience brain fog.
ALTERNATIVELY, YOU COULD BE OVERSTIMULATED.
There is so much going on, so much for your brain to handle, that it just quits the situation. All you want is to go somewhere quiet and cool down. I often get this at big family lunches while talking with lots of relatives – following the conversation ends up exhausting me.
HAVE YOU BEEN HYPERFOCUSING FOR TOO LONG?
ADHD is a bit of a misnomer – you don’t have a deficit of attention, you have a dysregulation. We can focus intensely, for many hours, on tasks that give our brains the dopamine it craves. Often, nothing can break you out of the trance. Even hunger, or needing the toilet…
However, if this goes on too long, you might get a “hyperfocus hangover” – which can feel a lot like fatigue. You have zero energy, and zero willpower to do anything. Even the thing you were previously hyperfocused on.
IT COULD BE YOUR SLEEP HABITS TOO.
Although it wasn’t just bad sleep hygiene that was exhausting me, taking ages to fall asleep on a school night, all thanks to my hyperactive ADHD brain, definitely contributed to my narcoleptic tendencies during the day. People with ADHD also often have something called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome – you can read more about it here.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT MY ADHD FATIGUE?
For me personally, two things worked.
My stimulants keep me awake during the day. I do still feel tired sometimes, but even if I cozy up in bed, I’m too focused for my brain to wander off into sleep.
CONSISTENT SLEEP ROUTINES
It makes me quite inflexible sometimes, but I know I need 8 hours of sleep to function. Otherwise, it’s honestly just not worth inviting me anywhere. I also try and get up at the same time every morning – yes, even on weekends! This helps my brain feel tired at the right time in the evening so I can go to bed. It also has the added benefit of helping me time my meds during the day. It was painful at first, but being quite strict in this area allowed me to be more flexible with my plans during the day – because I no longer needed a nana-nap every afternoon!
Since I made these changes last July, I have had the grand total of 11 naps (yes, I kept track). All of them were less than 2 hours. Before this, I would spend nearly 4 hours a day on unplanned snoozes – my Fitbit woefully logged them all.
You could also try rearranging your day and just ride the waves so that you have a clear schedule at times you normally struggle. Between 3pm and 5pm is always a danger zone for me.
Even if you find a strategy that works for you, remember there’s also nothing wrong with taking a nap if you want one. They can improve your alertness, memory, and mood (once you’ve woken up, of course). Let the tiredness win if you think you need it. Physical exhaustion and fatigue will only make your ADHD brain more uncooperative.
AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT.
Fatigue is a symptom of illness, and we wouldn’t look down on someone with a physical condition for needing a nap.
ADHD fatigue is no different.
Would you like to read more advice about living and thriving with ADHD? Check out our Tips category here!