Many people with ADHD report worse symptoms in winter. This is due to a variety of factors.
- Winter often means being cooped up indoors, with less to do.
- Winter brings the holidays with the stress of family and financial pressures, as well as disruption of routine with school breaks, snow days, illness and holidays.
- The lack of light causes sleep to be more restless in patients with ADHD.
- Therapeutic diets can go out the window with holiday treats that seem to come nonstop from Halloween until St. Patrick’s Day.
How can a person with ADHD cope with winter symptoms?
Stick to a routine as much as possible. This is especially important for sleep habits. People with ADHD tend to have more problems with going to sleep late and getting up late, and this combined with shorter days can lead to abnormalities in the hormone melatonin which governs circadian rhythms. Irregular sleep and inadequate sleep can lead to worse symptoms. Sticking with a consistent wake/sleep schedule should help with this problem.
Light therapy. Clinical trials in this area are small, but show that early morning light therapy can help counter the tendency of adults with ADHD to go to bed and rise too late, with improvement of ADHD symptoms as well. Since this therapy is not supported by major clinical trials, it is possible that your insurance will not cover the cost of a therapeutic lamp, unless you also have seasonal affective disorder (winter depression).
Get outside. Invest in warm clothing, like long underwear and snow pants, so that you don’t have an excuse to at least go out for a walk every day. Shovel snow. Help other people shovel snow. Find a winter sport you can enjoy near home, like skating. The extra exercise will get out your energy, help you sleep better, and ultimately make you feel better.
Plan some kind of indoor exercise. A class will help you get some social interaction in, but even a home stretching and toning routine can help with concentration, fitness, and energy levels. You may also want to set up some kind of home gym in a guest bedroom, garage, or basement.
Plan in advance for holiday treats. If treats only affect you briefly, it may be fine to have one now and again. However, if red dye leaves your child hyper for days later, it may be wise to plan early for temptation.
Adults can rehearse their own scripts for turning down holiday goodies, or simply accept them graciously for “later” and feed them to someone else who doesn’t have dietary restrictions. Parents who want to broach a “sweet free” Valentine’s party with your child’s teacher need to start far in advance, when sign ups occur for event planning. You can also plan on sending your child to school with their own treat for class celebrations, particularly if the treat is likely to cause a problem for several days after.