37: Sleep to Success

Sleep to Success | ADHD reWired

37: Sleep to Success

An interview with Dr. Roberto Olivardia, Harvard clinical psychology instructor

With a history of sleep disorders himself, Dr. Roberto Olivardia talks through his experiences dealing with the effects ADHD can have on sleep. As a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in dealing with ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, and more,  Dr. Olivardia shares some of his extensive knowledge with us about various disorders, conditions, and habits relating to sleep. Through addressing these disorders, Dr. Olivardia shows us how one could greatly improve their life.

About Dr. Roberto Olivardia:

  • Eric met Roberto at a previous CHADD conference

  • Located in Boston, Dr. Olivardia is a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School; clinical associate at McLean Hospital; maintains a private psychotherapy practice specializing in treatment of ADHD, BDD, OCD, eating disorders in boys and men; co-authored the book The Adonis Complex, detailing various issues of body image in males; and has been published in or appeared in Time magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone, Good Morning America, Extra, CBS, CNN, Fox and Friends, and VH1.

  • Has had sleeping issues since he was a child.

  • Over the course of his life, Roberto has dealt with ADHD in conjunction with sleep deprivation, sleepwalking, delayed sleep-phase syndrome (DSPS), severe sleep apnea, and sleep paralysis.

ADHD and Sleep:

  • Roberto has found that a lot of those with ADHD also have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, where one’s body naturally wakes up more at night and doesn’t relax until the early morning.

  • For Roberto it was validating, after so long living with sleep disorders, to look to science and research and find that people with ADHD are more wired towards having sleep problems.

  • Psychologically, those with ADHD tend to engage in higher-energy, more stimulating behaviors

  • Many with ADHD don’t view sleep as productive; they could be finishing work or leisure goals instead of sleeping.

  • Despite all of his studies, research, and history of personal experiences, Roberto still occasionally has a hard time convincing himself to go to sleep.

Effects, Symptoms, and Their Stories:

  • Since about age seven, Roberto has occasionally had issues with sleep paralysis, where he would awake to find that he would be unable to move his body other than his eyes for about thirty seconds to a minute. Usually, a person’s body does this naturally when they sleep and then stops when they wake up.

  • Once in college, Roberto’s sleep paralysis was accompanied by a hypnagogic (leading into sleep) hallucination where he thought he saw a cloaked figure standing in his room.

  • Attempting to write his 130-page  senior honors thesis, Roberto stayed up for three days with no sleep. Roberto began to have hallucinations that mice were running by just out of his vision. His roommate also noticed at one point that he had started to write complete nonsense.

  • Eric had been up for five days straight in college when he had an out-of-body experience hallucination. When he eventually slept, it was for over 24 hours straight.

  • Following instances of nodding off while driving, Eric realized how serious the problems he was having with sleep were and decided to look more into methods and life strategies to deal with ADHD.

  • Roberto developed a case of shingles during a particularly stressful time in graduate school.

  • Submitting himself to a sleep study after doubting he needed one, Roberto was told the exhibited the largest number of sleep apnea (pauses in breathing) events the doctor had ever seen. He subsequently began using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device, amongst other adjustments, and both his quality of sleep, and even potential lifespan, improved drastically.

  • After retaining better sleep habits, Roberto lost twelve pounds (your body holds on to extra body fat when sleep-deprived).

  • Roberto: Be aware of your snoring. If you’re a heavy snorer, I suggest having a sleep study performed.


  • Eric: Tracks his sleep via a behavior chart.

  • Certain behaviors can “anchor” a person to the reality of their sleep needs; Eric uses the act of leaving the office to put his son to bed as an anchor

  • Roberto uses various online alarm clocks set to alert him that specific times, like midnight, have arrived.

  • Recognize and optimize towards some of your sleep preferences: Roberto knows he prefers to sleep with weighty covers in order to feel a bit of pressure down as he sleeps.

  • Have a sleep study conducted for a more complete analysis, then use that information to fix problem areas.

Products mentioned:

Roberto’s Parting Message:

Pay attention to your sleep. Be mindful of it, track it, and write notes about it. Also, going to bed and going to sleep are very different.

Contact Dr. Roberto Olivardia:

Other information:

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