Early to Bed

by Dr. Thor Bergersen

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
— Ben Franklin

If he was alive today, I’m sure Ben would have included women in his quote. His point, however, was as true then as it is now. But sleep is boring, right? I mean, even talking about sleep is a snooze. We’re supposed to spend a third of our lives in dreamland, which adds up to about 4 months per year. What does this prolonged unconsciousness do for us? Although it seems like a waste of time and productivity, even the most energetic souls among us must succumb to slumber to avoid fatigue, psychosis and ultimately, death.

I talk about sleep with my patients because it’s important. If they’re forgetful, disorganized, tired or not thinking clearly, it could be because of insomnia. I’ve learned, however, that their lack of sleep results more often from an unwillingness to go to bed, rather than an inability to fall and stay asleep. They keep themselves up, driven by the false belief that they will accomplish one more thing, or that they might think of something important that would be lost if they closed their eyes and drifted off.

Our brains recharge when we’re asleep. Supplies of essential neurotransmitters are replenished, information is processed in the absence of conscious thought, various regions cycle on and offline, and the body is periodically paralyzed as the cerebral cortex plays with stimulation tossed up from the brainstem, spinning psychotic threads of thought we call dreams. Really, a lot happens when we sleep.

Many people with ADHD have trouble sleeping. Some simply procrastinate, putting off going to bed until it’s too late to get the hours needed to feel rested the next morning. Others have racing thoughts, thinking about a million things that they should have done that day, have to do tomorrow, or might do at some point in the future. Whatever the obstacle, most people with whom I meet do not get enough sleep, often feel exhausted, and resolve every morning to get more sleep that night.

Which brings us back to the Franklin quote. Just by going to bed earlier, you eliminate inefficient, unproductive time you would have spent puttering around until the wee hours, and create clarity, energy and focus in the morning. Although some of you will be thinking, “I do some of my best work late at night,” such productivity by way of exhaustion is never a long-term solution. By relying on the random providence offered by fatigue and desperation, you’re setting yourself up for depression and anxiety.

In closing, some caveats. Earlier doesn’t have to mean early. The time isn’t as important as how your day is structured. Give yourself enough time to work out in the morning without feeling rushed. Catch up on things you didn’t get to the day before. Make a list of tasks you’d like to complete. Get to work or school on time. Whether it’s 6 or 10 hours, aim for what feels best.