In Part 2 of our series exploring the power of an ADHD morning routine to boost your dopamine and optimise your productivity, we go into more detail, looking at:
- helpful tips and suggestions for effective activities to boost your ADHD morning routine
- examples of effective ADHD morning routines
The Importance of an ADHD Morning Routine
Morning routine helps us alleviate brain fog, improve focus, and be more organised. When properly constructed an ADHD morning routine helps us to wake up properly, boost our much needed dopamine, and also look forward to our mornings.
This makes it easier to get out of bed and become more of a morning person, when we have an enjoyable morning routine that optimises production of that much needed dopamine that is in low supply when we have ADHD. As late risers (night owls) a morning routine is essential because it takes us longer to wake up than larks.
By having an enjoyable and productive morning routine, it not only wakes you up properly, but it sets the tone for the rest of the day ahead.
Key Activities To Optimise Your ADHD Morning Routine
Make sure that you have some activities in the morning that you are looking forward to. This motivates you to wake up and gives you the motivational boost you need. This is just as important, in fact more, on work and school days as it is on days off. You may have less time for such activities, but be sure to build them in, even if they are for short periods of time. Here are some key areas to pay attention to in constructing your ideal ADHD morning routine:
Change Your Alarm Clock: I remember as a teenager and young adult throwing my mobile phone across the room because I had the most annoying alarm clock ever. But why do we assume that the only way to wake up when we have ADHD is through stress?
Why not set your alarm clock as an enjoyable piece of music that you will want to wake up to. Stop programming your brain to wake up using stress (cortisol and adrenalin) and start conditioning it to wake up with enjoyment (dopamine) which is exactly what your brain is asking for.
And why assume that loud noise is the best way to wake up? Our brains in fact respond even more so to bright light, so why not purchase a Day Glow Alarm Clock to wake you up with bright light.
One of my young ADHD clients began a morning routine that got him waking up earlier than his own parents. What did he do? He purchased a "Clocky" alarm clock, which forces you to get out of bed because it moves across the floor, synchronised with a Dayglow Alarm Clock to wake him up with light, and an essential oil diffuser all synchronised to wake him up at the same time.
For better results think outside the box!
Have an Enjoyable Morning Playlist: Similarly, we can continue using the power of music in our morning routine, by creating an enjoyable morning playlist. I created one for myself that includes tracks such as “I feel good” by James Brown, and I literally will sing and dance to it to convince my subconscious that I love the mornings. You never know, you might just find that you actually end up doing so!
Medication: Take it early to help you wake up. Some people with ADHD may set an earlier alarm, take their medication, and then go back to bed or snooze. This gives some time for the medication to start working which makes it easier to get up and get going.
A similar result can also be achieved by taking a brand name proprietary nootropic like Brainzyme, guarana, or even coffee with theanine.
Of course, always remember to consult with your doctor on supplementation, especially if you are also taking medication for ADHD. Taking a nootropic or caffeine with medication, can be overly stimulating and even increase risk of side effects.
Exercise: Exercise in the morning will of course take more effort than taking your medication, but trust me when I say it's worth it. Did you know that, according to some research, exercise could be the number one natural treatment for ADHD, and it appears to help with all if not most of our symptoms.
The best exercise is something that gets your heart pounding at 70% max of your heartbeat. This is similar to what your medication does. It raises your heart beat, but exercise also moves your body and increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain.
When I used to work 14 hour shifts as a care-worker with children with special needs (a very demanding role), I would make sure to sprint for at least 10 minutes before going into work, and I found that woke me up more than caffeine and lasted for most of the day.
It may sound painful, and I wouldn't be surprised if you're rolling your eyes at the thought of it, but if you want to lower your symptoms of ADHD, boost alertness, mood, and lower if not eliminate brain fog, then exercise is key.
Early morning exercise, especially when conducted outdoors so you get exposure to daylight (preferably in the first 30 minutes of waking up) is also the key to overcoming your tendency to be a “Night Owl” and late riser.
If you do exercise on waking, you will literally reprogram your circadian rhythm (biological clock) to wake you up earlier and give you more energy. In fact, think about morning exercise and light exposure as being the method by which you set your internal biological clock! Do this for one week and it could change your life.
Avoid Your Phone for the First Hour of Waking: In our modern world we have the habit of reaching for our phone on waking. All this does is increase our ADHD tendencies by exacerbating our addiction to the “dopamine hit” we get from social media and checking our email. It also stresses our eyes which has a negative effect on our brain function and ability to focus.
That may sound backwards at first, but remember that yes our dopamine may be low, but some ways of boosting our dopamine are healthy, whilst others such as screen-time or gaming tend to encourage what I call “fast dopamine.” This is a short acting hit, which spirals into addiction and makes ADHD worse.
If you want to start off on the right foot, keep away from your devices for at least one hour on waking. Better still, replace it with something that increase “slow dopamine” (which has a longer half life), such as exercise or any of the other activities mentioned here.
Meditation & Prayer: Okay, so you may be rolling your eyes again, but hear me out. Firstly, we may assume that meditation and prayer have no effect on our dopamine because they are “boring.” In actual fact, truth be told, they increase our positive brain chemicals, including dopamine. But let's look at some ways to make meditation an “ADHD friendly” part of your morning routine, and how, if you've never done it before, or tried and struggled, how you can finally make it work for you.
First of all, think “less is more.” To get the benefits of meditation you don't need to sit cross legged for hours. In fact, just 5 or 10 minutes will be much more achievable and effective. Why not just spend 5 or so minutes consciously breathing or using a meditation/mindfulness app such as Aura, Breethe, Buddhify, or Calm. You can use these to give you reminders for very short 1 minute meditation or mindfulness sessions. Remember “less is more.” 15 Best Meditation and Mindfulness Apps for 2021 (developgoodhabits.com)
How to Meditate “Deeper than a Zen Monk” at the Push of a Button: To make things easier, you can use a sound technology which can enhance meditation “at the push of a button” and also increase your focus. You may have heard of “binaural beats”, but it's time to ditch those for something similar yet far more effective: iAwake technology.
Its the most powerful and sophisticated entrainment technology that I have ever come across, the leader in their field. In fact it's so powerful that I credit it with my transformation in 2011 when I came out of depression and also got control of my ADHD.
For ADHD I highly recommend Neurocharger 3.0, Gamma40, and GammaBurst. These help your ADHD brain create more of the fast brainwave activity that it tends to lack, much like medication does, except iAwake helps you achieve this through sound. You can think of it as a “digital stimulant.” Click on this banner to get access to free tracks and their catalogue:
Whilst brainwave entrainment is very safe for the vast majority of people, I need to point out a few possible exceptions. Be sure to consult your doctor first if the person considering to use has had a seizure in the past or if there is a history of it in the family. Also be sure to consult a health professional if you are considering the use of brainwave entrainment by a person under 18, or if you are also taking prescribed medications. Whilst reactions to this technology are extremely rare, it's better to be on the safe side.
Audio Visual Entrainment: When I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 24 in 2004 I had to discontinue my use of ritalin within weeks due to side effects. I decided to invest in a device called “Audio Visual Entrainment” (AVE), otherwise known as “photic stimulation” or “mind machines.” This is like a walkman which has a pair of glasses housing micro-LED lights which are used to stimulate your brain activity. You simply put them on and choose settings such as “focus”, “energy”, or “sleep.”
Every morning I spend at least 10 minutes on my Procyon mind machine using a setting which really stimulates my brain, much like iAwake does, but much more quickly. It's like a mix between a wonderful light show, meditation and a strong coffee, and the effects last for hours. Whenever I need a top up, I am happy to spend a few more minutes on the machine. The fact that it's so enjoyable means that it's not only a helpful therapeutic activity for the ADHD morning routine, but also an enjoyable experience.
These devices have been used by both adults and children with ADHD, and again, whilst they are safe under most circumstances, one should consult a medical health professional for advice on usage, especially if considering use by a young person, or when there is a history of seizures within the family.
Example of My ADHD Morning Routine
My routine has changed over the years according to my needs and lifestyle at the time. I have also learned more and more effective ways to get going in the morning. Of course, my morning routine may not work for you, but I share it as an example of what an effective ADHD morning routine can look like.
Wake up time. Dayglow alarm clock wakes me up using light and sound, light being more effective than sound alone, especially in winter months (and especially if prone to SAD).
Exercise, preferably outdoor, within 30 minutes of waking, including sprints (super effective), jogging, or bodyweight exercises. Push up burpees are very effective too. If for some reason exercise outside not possible, I'll do bodyweight exercise indoors in front of bright lighting.
Walk outdoors for at least 20 minutes to have more light exposure and body movement and time in nature, which is all good for waking up, relaxation, increased ability to focus, and better mood.
Meditation in combination with iAwake. I used to do this first thing, but it's more effective after waking up properly with light and exercise, and to create a strong healthy circadian rhythm waking up same time, exercising and natural light exposure in the AM, is the number one required activity.
Audio Visual Entrainment plus “positive mind programming.” I use my light goggles to switch my brain on, whilst doing “positive mind programming.” This is optional activity and may be skipped or carried out at some other time. For e.g. if going somewhere early I may use my AVE device whilst travelling or as a quick break.
Brunch. I fast most of morning as this is good for my health and energy levels, although for other people that may not be a good idea. Brunch will be high in protein and fats, and low in carbs. Protein lowers anxiety and symptoms of ADHD, and it is better to avoid sugar which can exacerbate ADHD.
ADHD Morning Routines for Busy Lifestyles
Of course this routine is not ideal for everyone, so the trick is to think “less is more”. Include as many components, but if necessary shorten them. Be flexible. Think outside the box. If you're wondering how I manage to follow a similar routine when waking up to work a 14 hour shift at 5.30am, here's how I did it.
I travelled by bus, so I'd wake up 5.30am.
Sprint in garden 5-10mins.
Take bus at 6:30.
During bus journey I would continue my routine!
Meditation for 30 minutes on bus using iAwake technology.
Second half of bus journey before arrival. Procyon mind machine (AVE) exposing my brain to powerful light and sound, whilst running myself through a “Positive Mind Programming Session” (a form of self hypnosis) to set myself up for a good day ahead.
Finally, as I do not take medication, I would take my Herbal Nootropic with a cup of green tea, matcha green tea, or Yerba Mate (my favourite) on arrival at work.
If you want more helpful tips and strategies for an ADHD Morning Routine why not check out my other blogs such as: Why An ADHD Morning Routine is Essential and How to Create One That Really Works
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