I’ve learned through my own experience that the relationship between quality sleep and mental health are reciprocal, where a lack of sleep can intensify symptoms of mental illness, and having a mental illness can in fact make sleeping more difficult. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 12. Trying to keep up in school with a major case of ADHD also caused a comorbid symptom of extreme anxiety. I carried stress on my shoulders all day, just trying to focus and complete tasks like the rest of the students. In fact, I developed a certain intensity with my personality, where at night it was almost impossible to settle down, relax, and let my mind wind down with ease. I put a lot of pressure on myself, not quite sure why I couldn’t understand or follow instructions like other students.
So ADHD and anxiety loomed over my waking and sleeping life for essentially my entire grade school existence. Wondering what caused me to be different in the way I learned made me think that something was wrong with me, leading to some mild depressive symptoms as well. All of this led to disruptive sleeping patterns, where it would take me forever to wind down at night, where all my covers and sheets would be on the floor the next morning from moving about at night and the restlessness of my legs. I perspired a lot.
It turns out that even though I felt alone, I was not the only one. According to Harvard Medical School, 25% to 50% of children with ADHD also experience difficulty falling asleep and experience restless slumber. Regardless of whether someone has ADHD, people with sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder can develop ADHD symptoms like hyperactiveness, inattentiveness, and emotional instability, which all stem from a lack of sleep.
Regardless of whether someone has ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or depression, the suggested remedies and solutions are all the same. Watch consumption of substances like alcohol and nicotine, try to exercise regularly, stick to a regular sleep schedule, practice relaxation techniques, and consider cognitive behavioral therapy. Through taking these measures, you can treat the sleep disorder, which in turn helps alleviate the symptoms of a mental health problem. You can also treat the mental health problem itself through understanding how it affects an individual and learning how to cater to those traits, which in turn can alleviate sleep issues, along with proper therapy and possibly medication.
I developed a number of coping mechanisms during my years with ADHD that shaped me as a person, which is not to say that all traits or outcomes of people with ADHD are unfavorable. You also learn about yourself through understanding how your coping mechanisms still manifest today and why they developed, which builds personal insight. I now sleep much better, but it took insight and being conscious of my sleep schedule and sleep hygiene habits, in order to retrain myself how to get several hours of restful sleep. Now that I get 6 to 8 hours of restful sleep, my emotions are much more stable, and I seem to be able to focus better throughout the day when I am learning or people are talking to me. And the good news is that even though I struggled with learning methods in grade school, I still made strong grades and went on to earn a Master’s degree.
Lisa Smalls is a freelance writer that spends most of her time writing about sleep for Mattress Advisor. She is especially fascinated with the relationship between sleep and mental health. When she isn’t writing she loves learning more about the inner workings of our health and spends her time trying new recipes in the kitchen and hitting the gym.