5 Sleep Tips for Travelers with ADHD

By Molly Barnes, Digital Nomad Life

Getting good sleep can be challenging for anyone. Loud noises, stress, and other factors we’ll discuss can create a fitful night’s sleep that leaves you feeling almost as exhausted as you were when your head hit the pillow.

These things can happen a lot more when you’re on the road and sleeping in “strange” places. And if you have attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), those challenges can loom even larger. Sleep problems are reported in between one-quarter and half of people with ADHD. And 75% of ADHD youth have sleep difficulties.

The hyperactivity component of ADHD can make it difficult to calm your mind and body when it’s time to sleep. And the lack of sleep, in turn, can further impede efforts to focus during waking hours. Even once you’re asleep, you may be more likely to toss and turn or fidget in your sleep. Restless leg syndrome alone has been found in nearly 18% of those with ADHD.

Having a consistent sleep pattern is important to maintaining a healthy waking life, and that’s something those with ADHD can have a hard time establishing and maintaining. Here are some ideas about how to do so, at home and away.

Control Your Climate

Keep your thermostat set at a temperature where you’re comfortable and can get the most restful sleep possible.But if you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to consider a cooler room temperature, closer to 61 degrees than 75. 

One study of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, a common condition for those with ADHD, found that “sleep time was longer, sleep efficiency was higher, and that patients with sleep apnea were more alert in the morning after sleeping in a cold room temperature.”

When traveling, prioritize temperature control however you can. Hotel thermostats can be notoriously inaccurate, so be sure you have a fan and extra blankets, in case the temperature is too hot or too cold. The same goes for camping or staying with relatives. If you’re traveling by RV, power outages are a primary concern. From experience, a backup generator is a necessity to keep the air moving, especially if you plan to go off grid. 

Keep a Consistent Schedule

Staying on a consistent schedule while traveling is no easy feat, but it’s a must. That means not taking naps in the afternoon, even if you’re tired. Let your sleep cycle right itself instead, even if you’re on the road and finding it difficult to do so. (Just make sure you don’t drive while tired.)

Naps can feel good at the time, but can throw off your circadian rhythm and make it harder to get to sleep at night. Instead, try going to sleep at the same time every night to establish a pattern.   

To help you wind down, avoid any bright lights — especially artificial “blue” light from electronic devices like your cell phone or TV. Because regular daylight keeps our bodies in tune with our environment, introducing artificial light can throw things off, and that’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to get to sleep.

The best way of dealing with this is to stop checking your phone after the sun goes down, and use warm light that’s close to natural light if you want to read to wind down. 

Reduce Stress

One of the things that can keep you from falling and staying asleep is stress, so it’s helpful to keep it at a minimum. Of course, that can be easier said than done. You can’t control everything, especially on the road, so start with what you can control.

One of the biggest sources of stress for travelers is finances. From budgeting for the trip to paying for emergencies that may come up, the best way to eliminate these worries is to plan ahead. Set a budget for your trip, and save money while traveling by packing your food, driving instead of flying, and taking advantage of loyalty and discount programs. 

Another way to make the most of your budget is to put rental car and hotel incidental deposits on a credit card. If you use a debit card, hundreds of your dollars could be tied up for days or weeks until the hotel or rental car agency releases the funds – even if you don’t use them. If you don’t have good credit, consider a secured credit card account. As an added bonus, using the card and paying your balance on time can help build your credit.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is important to maintaining a good sleeping pattern. Cut out caffeine before bedtime, and limit it during the day, too. And that glass of wine before bed that helps you relax? It won’t get you the kind of deep sleep you need to awake feeling refreshed.

Johns Hopkins recommends three simple steps you can take to improve your sleep:

  • Avoid alcohol, because it doesn’t just interfere with sleep, it can worsen sleep apnea, which, as mentioned, often goes along with ADHD. Substitute a glass of tart cherry juice.
  • Stay away from spicy foods, especially before bedtime, because they can cause acid reflux, which can be worse when you’re lying down.
  • Substitute complex carbohydrates like wheat toast for high-fat and high-protein foods. They’re easier to digest and release serotonin, a relaxing hormone.

Get Comfortable

Find a good mattress that helps your posture and allows you to maintain restful sleep. Or, if you’re sleeping at a hotel, find a chain you can count on. (There’s a reason so many frequent travelers stay at the same hotel over and over again!)

Buy yourself a soft, warm comforter for winter, and a pillow that works well under your head at night. If you need to use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block out light, those are also things worth considering. When you travel, bring what you can with you, so you can recreate your home environment to the best of your ability. Of course, these aren’t your only options when it comes to resting well. There are plenty of other strategies to improve your sleep. But understanding the things that commonly get in the way of a good night’s sleep while traveling (and taking steps to correct them) is the first step to achieving more rest and less stress on the road.


About the Author

Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.

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