Sleep is a habit!
Though sleep is one of the necessary bodily functions, we have significant cognitive control over it. Like our blinking eyelids, which we can stop or speed up at will, we can and do change how our body performs sleep. People with ADD have greater difficulty in getting to sleep and getting up than Neuro-normals. Much of the literature about sleep hygiene shows how your behavior affects sleep onset. Regardless of if you have ADD or not, if you have a difficult time getting up in the morning it is because that is what you taught yourself.
To paraphrase Thomas Brown, our ADD minds become ‘at attention’ when we are excited about doing something and impotent when we are not. The neurotransmitters of the attention network work differently when we want to be doing what it is we are doing. With my clients, one of the eliciting questions that I use concerns their behavior around their fun activities. ‘Can they get up to go to soccer practice on Saturday morning?’ ‘At the summer camp, were they able to get up with everyone else?’ An answer of ‘yes’ is a good sign. An answer of ‘no’ means either that there is a more serious sleep issue* that must be addressed or the level of spoiled is high.
For the majority of my clients who can get up to something exciting I have four things to do to help get up on school/work days:
- Take responsibility for getting up. This is a crucial aspect of getting up. It is not the alarm clock’s fault. It is the fault of the person who set the alarm. Teaching the ‘I’ word is important here. ‘I am responsibility for…’ ‘I set the alarm that…’ ‘I did not…’ Performing adequate sleep hygiene, which is primarily concerned with going to sleep, is part of taking responsibility for getting up.
- Be allowed to fail at getting up. This is almost a corollary of the first one. Whoever is waking you up in the morning, be it your parent or spouse or girlfriend, has to stop taking responsibility for your being successful in the morning. This sense of responsibility is your primary motivator. If, in the nether world of your half awake mind, you believe someone is going to come and bail you out, you will not do the work of getting up.
- Want to get up in the morning. You have to decide that you want to get up, which can be difficult in a half awake state. This can be done from a positive place or negative place. From the negative place, it is wanting to not fail. The result of 1 and 2 above is that if you don’t do it, you will fail. Failure is a harsh teacher, and an effective one. Wanting to get up, from the positive place, entails changing your view of the morning. Equating getting up with going to work/school has to change. Learn to do something else in the morning first, be it watch a TV show, go out into the garden, something that is fun for you. Then, in your half wake state, it will be easier to want to get up.
- Understand the architecture of sleep. ‘Sleep architecture’ refers to the pattern of moving from REM sleep to Stage 4 Beta sleep, and back, that our brains go through during the night. This cycle, as a generalization, lasts about 90 minutes. This is important to know because it is easy to wake up if you are at the REM stage of sleep and difficult to wake up if you are at the Stage 4 Beta stage of sleep. When your alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning, you need to be in the REM stage of sleep. One of the wonderful things about our brain is that if you tell it at 6:00 that you are going to be waking up in 30 minutes, no matter where it is in the sleep cycle, it will be at REM stage at 6:30. To do this you need to get a two alarm radio alarm clock. Set the first alarm to quietly play music at 6:00. It should not be loud at all because you do not want to be prompted to turn it off. Then your regular alarm should go off at 6:30. The regular alarm should not be a sonic boom alarm, just unpleasantly loud.
- Talk to yourself the night before. An important trick that I have found to be useful is to talk to yourself about getting up. Sit on the side of the bed and look at the alarm clock and say something like ‘It is 1 AM now. I want to get up at 6:30. That is five and a half hours from now. I have to be at work at 7:30. I will get up and go make a pot of coffee at 6:30.’ While doing this, visualize yourself doing the actions of getting up, etc.
Having ADD, and the problems with sleep that comes with it, cannot and must not be seen as an excuse for not being able to get yourself up in the morning. We must teach our children, and as adults we must maintain, responsibility for getting up in the morning regardless of the neurological problems we have.