One of the things that always puzzled me when my son Josh was younger was how he tended to be extreme in his degrees of alertness. He was very hyperactive much of the time, but when I managed to get him to sit down at the table or on the couch to do school work he became downright lethargic. He’d go from spinning around like the Looney Tune Tasmanian Devil one minute to propping his head on his hand and looking groggy the next. It’s as if he couldn’t regulate himself to anything in between the two extremes. Now Josh is a young adult, and his AD/HD sister is in her late teens and I see the same issue of regulating attention manifesting in a slightly different way. My AD/HD husband Scott, my son, and my daughter all tend to fall asleep if they are sitting still listening to a lecture. Keep in mind they are not sleep deprived, so I don’t think lack of sleep is what’s causing it. Every single week in church, they are fine during the music portion of the service. They are fully awake during the meet-and-greet time. But once the sermon begins and they are sitting still and quiet, they close their eyes and fade away. At first I thought it only happened at church, but that’s not the case. It happens any time they are required to sit quietly in one spot and just listen. I recently attended a meeting with Scott and Josh to hear a speaker discussing issues that affect adults with AD/HD. In a room with about 20 people, I looked around and saw that only Josh and Scott were in the “I’m not sleeping but my eyes are closed and I LOOK like I’m sleeping” state. So I wonder if this is something many adults with AD/HD struggle with, or if my family’s manifestation is somehow unique. When Josh has a fidget ball with him, he is better able to regulate himself and stay awake and alert. When Scott takes notes, it helps him focus. When Beckie doodles, she attends better to what is being said. Yet if none of these strategies are implemented in time, they drift away and miss many points from the presentation being offered to them. They need to plan to use the strategies prior to finding themselves in an attention-challenging situation, but planning does not come naturally for them. By the time the need for a strategy becomes clear they may already be drifting away.
I happened upon this while searching for some medical journal articles on the link between Adult ADHD and misdiagnosed narcolepsy. I have severe, legitimately diagnosed ADHD from childhood that has carried over into adulthood. I am 24 now, and starting when I was 23 began falling asleep whenever tasked with any activity that is repetitive, requires attentiveness, or that seems mundane. Basically, any activity that does not require me to hyperfocus will cause me to fall asleep. This includes driving. Give me my sketchbook and I am fine through lectures, although I struggle without being on a stimulant regimen. The link between ADHD and the narcoleptic symptoms is there, you just have to search for it. It is very real, and it is not narcolepsy. I’ve talked to several GP’s and my psychiatrist, all of whom agree that narcolepsy is not conditional upon what you are doing. After a six year hiatus from stimulants, I’m going back to avoid dying in a car wreck when I fall asleep on the highway. I have trouble sleeping at night and trouble waking in the morning.
I’m in my 40’s and was diagnosed with ADD in my 30’s. I have always had excellent coping skills for lectures – first, I make sure I sit near the front. If I don’t I get distracted by watching all the people sitting in front of me. Second I take notes. The note taking is important because I don’t memorize things easily. Writing them down keeps me alert AND helps me learn them. Luckily I don’t have any issues with both listening and writing simultaneously, as my nephew does.
Sandra, it sounds like you’ve figured out strategies that work for you. Taking notes, doodling, fidgeting – all these seem to indicate that having some type of motor movement can help sustain attention. Chris, I just thought of something as I re-read your post. I’ve heard that those with AD/HD often have sleep difficulties and may feel wide awake at midnight and not really be deeply asleep until 2:00 to 4:00 a.m.. Obviously, that would make it hard to get up in the morning. One thing that helped my daughter was to exercise vigorously for about 20 minutes before she planned to go to bed. It really helped her get to sleep better, even though it’s counter intuitive for those without AD/HD sleep issues. Prior to trying the exercising just before sleep, she would go to bed and be awake for hours trying to fall asleep. Of course we didn’t allow caffeine or anything within hours of bedtime, but she just felt wide awake at bedtime and then exhausted when it was time to get up. Just a thought, but maybe the exercising strategy will help.