Cameron Gott, PCC
ADHD Coaching for Leaders & Professionals


The Global Creative Blog

First Things First - Good Brain Management


Addressing Physiological ADHD Needs

(Part 1 of my Hierarchy of ADHD Needs Series)

Years ago I worked with a client who’s goals were not unlike many of my other clients - get a handle on his ADHD and be more effective at work. What was unique about this client was his unusual sleep habits. He had none. Many people with ADHD can struggle with consistent sleep but this guy was in a category unto himself. He consistently got 3-4 hours of sleep a night, sometimes less. The biggest factor was an unrealistic and callous work expectation of working his day job and then managing an offshore office half way around the world through the night. As soon as his US office closed the one on the Pacific Rim was opening. All of that lack of sleep was killing his ability to cobble together attention, initiate task, manage key relations and complete projects.

This is a fairly extreme example of not meeting basic needs but what is not unusual was my client’s failure to connect his attention challenges to his sleep habits. Often individuals new to an ADHD diagnosis will assume that they are just missing a key bit of information or that coaching will provide a tool or system to get them on the road to less distractibility and more productivity. Tools, systems and coaching help but they are not a substitute for a solid foundation of practices that address basic physiological needs like medication, sleep, exercise and healthy eating habits. Physiological needs are the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and also the set of needs that anchor my ADHD interpretation of his model - my Hierarchy of ADHD Needs.

Sleep as a Necessity

Amazing stuff happens when we sleep. For one, the brain does important sorting of the previous day’s memories. This important housecleaning happens only during sleep. To understand your own physiological needs, start with developing more ADHD awareness - of how your ADHD uniquely impacts you and your ability to manage and get things done. ADHD brains are like an exotic sports car that only runs when it is perfectly tuned. Unfortunately we often find our exotic brain up on ‘the blocks in the garage’ when it needs to be out on the road getting worked through the gears. Sleep can be extra challenging since many of us will trade sleep for another precious commodity - personal time. As other brains in the house are winding down in the late hours of the day the Global Creative brain is just revving up!

If you want to be the best you can be you have to learn to leverage your ADHD so it works for you and not against. Every single one of my clients who has gone on to greater success and goal attainment did so when they put physiological needs and self care at the top of the list. Why is this so relevant? Super achievers often operate in the ‘red zone’ pushing the limits - pushing that exotic sports car to the redline. We can be prone to overextending ourselves, biting off too much at a given time. Locating your own mix of self care to address these needs from sleep to medication, to days off and meditation is key. One size does not fit all here. Experimenting with different combinations is a good idea but first start with assessing where you are with these needs in the first place:

  • Am I getting adequate sleep?

  • Do I swap sleep for personal time often staying up past midnight?

  • How much screen time am I doing after 11 p.m.?

  • On a scale of 1-5 what is my level of focus? Does it wane through the day?

  • What are my eating habits? My exercise habits? Am I doing what I want to be doing here?

My Four Elements of Inspiration Practice model is a good resource here. Decisions regarding whether to medicate or not are up to the individual but in my opinion ADHD meds are worth exploring to see if the benefits outweigh the costs. Regardless of what you read in the press they do have a proven track record. They need not be seen as a permanent solution. You can start and you can stop if they are not effective.

Finding Help

So what did I focus on with my client who had the sleep challenges? We addressed the sleep issue first since nothing else would be effective until we addressed this basic human need. When he connected his productivity challenges with his sleep behaviors the value and awareness of this need increased. Once we addressed the sleep we then went on to topics like time management, effective leading, prioritizing, delegating and positive accountability.