Sleep Timing and Time Tangles

Thoughts about TIME,
Attention Management and Focus

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC



Piecing together all of the elements impacting our ability to live a life on purpose is a complex puzzle that is often little more than a mass of tangles.

Something as seemingly simple as SLEEP, for example, seems especially tangled when we are looking at the impact of chronorhythms (brain/body-timing, relative to earth timing cues).

Understanding is further complicated when we lack familiarity with certain words – especially scientific terminology.

We have to call objects and concepts something, of course — and each piece of the what-we-call-things puzzle has a mitigating effect on every other.

Unfortunately, new vocabulary often delays the aha! response, perhaps obfuscating recognition of relationships entirely – in other words, those times when we can’t see the forest for the leaves, never mind the trees!

The need to become familiar with the new lingo is also what I call one of those tiered tasks. It pushes short-term memory to its limit until the new terms become familiar. That, in turn, creates complexities from a myriad of “in-order-to” objectives inherent in the interrelationships of what is, after all, a distributed process.

See also: The Importance of Closing Open Loops:
Open Loops, Distractions and Attentional Dysregulation


There is something slippery in this sleep-timing interweaving I can’t quite put my finger on; something that no one else is looking at – at least no one published anyplace I have been able to find!!

Melatonin + corticosteroid release + light cues + core body temperature + gene expression + protein synthesis (and more!) combine to produce individual chronorhythms.

Individual chronorhythms influence not only sleep timing, but ALSO one’s internal “sense of time” — each of which further influences the effectiveness of other domains.

They do not operate in isolation — even though we usually focus on them in isolation, hoping to fully understand their individual contributions.

Here’s the kicker: prior associations

Whether we like it or not, the underlying, less conscious interpretations we associate with whatever words we use “ride along” with the denotative (dictionary) meaning of every single word.

In addition, the moment the terms become integrated into our understanding of the topic, they boundary the conversation — in other words, tethering it to old territory rather than opening new vistas. (See the linguistic portion of What’s in a Name?  for a bit about how and why).

Where we begin biases our understanding of new concepts we move on to study, which skews the inter-relationship.  Not only that, the relationship between the extent of our understanding of each piece unbalances our understanding of the whole.  Or so it seems to me.

Ask Any Mechanic


Setting automobile spark-plug firing efficiently affects engine performance which, in turn, affects a number of other things — gas mileage and tire wear among them.

I doubt that anyone has ever studied it “scientifically,” but every good mechanic has observed the effect in a number of arenas.  What we can “prove” is that the engine runs raggedly before spark-plug gapping and smoothly afterwards.

I doubt the entire inter-relationship has been quantified to metrics, so The Skeptics may still scoff at our definition of proof, even while the car-obsessed among them will take their engines to be “buffed.”

It makes me crazy!

To my mind, the overfocus on quantification has become its own problem.  Yes, co-occurance does not prove causation, but I prefer a more observational approach day to day.  At least, I do not discount it.

“Doctor, it hurts when I do this/don’t do that! is ignoring deeper problems, no doubt, but at least it avoids a prescription for pain medication that may well create a problem somewhere else.

But back to sleep timing and inner time sense — problematic for most of us here in Alphabet City.

Light and Dark

Since I am one of the 75% of the ADD community who experience sleep struggles of one type or another, I am intrigued with the plant and animal reproduction studies that have been looking at the relationship between light, some kind of “inner clock,” and fertility cycles.

I am even more intrigued by the studies that
look at the influence of the absence of light.
(more about that later)

Both are driven by economic imperatives, of course — how we can get more eggs out of the chickens, more milk from the cows, and tulips that flower outside their standard “seasons” so that more can be sold.

While I am frustrated by the pervasiveness of the beat of the economic drum, I’m grateful that sometimes it falls into some rhythms to which we can boogy.

Studies must be funded, after all, and those that promise data that might increase revenues are likely to be funded more readily. As long as cash is king, the quality of human lives is likely to remain wall-flowered, if invited to the ball at all.

The fingernails of agribusiness are as dirty as any of those
of the oft-demonized pharmaceutical industry.

But I digress . . .

Let’s not quibble over how and why and take a quick look at a WHAT.

Did you know that, for example, some scientists have demonstrated that a flash of light in total darkness seems to override what other scientists insist is the necessity of total light to entrain?

“Entrainment,” remember, is setting or modifying the phase or period of
[brain/body] circadian rhythms relative to a light/dark cycle —
for example, to adjust to days and nights here on earth.

What that might mean to you and me is that even turning on the light to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night might trick our brain into believing that it’s morning and time to get up.

Think about that the next time you can’t seem to get back to sleep!

It also flies in the face of the ubiquitous advice to get up and try again later if you aren’t asleep within 30 minutes.  According to these particular studies, we might do better in the long run if we remained in total darkness for as long as it took for our brain to settle back down and realize we are still sleepy!

These and other reproduction studies on the influence of an organisms’ inner sense of timing have developed some measurables that might help those of us in the peanut gallery — eventually.

  • Unfortunately, they seem to have led to a great many more scientific scuffles over specifics – no doubt reputation-enhancing, but useful?  I’m not so sure.
  • I’d much prefer to read about their insights that might be used by those of us who would like to solve some real-world personal problems — while we are still young enough to recall what it was we wanted to solve! (I’ve been on the hunt for over a quarter of a century, remember.)

Related Post: Science and Sensibility – the illusion of proof

Sunrise, Sunset?

Suzanne McNeil’s Zentangle – Found HERE

Even so, science is closer than ever before to understanding the inner timeclock that determines when we humans eat, drink and sleep – even when we make love (10 P.M. is the largest “bump” in that statistic, by the way!)

Addicted, as we are, to the idea of self-efficacy and “free-will,” we tend to push the boundaries of our native rhythms to the extreme.

At this time in our development as a species, it seems we push those boundaries at our peril. (Writer and broadcaster Leon Kreitzman has A LOT to say about that in his book The 24-Hour Society)

Chronobiologists: scientists who study sleep TIMING

The researchers seem fairly united in their belief that living outside endogenous (internal) circadian patterns negatively impacts many other things, including: immunity, short-term memory, reaction time, mood, cognitive efficiency and our ABILITY to pay attention and stay on task — and, in some cases, even life and death!

Still, we humans seem to prefer the manipulation of our surroundings to changing the way in which we relate to them.

  • Electric lights extend “daylight” by reducing darkness: more useful time, less awareness of the rhythms of time and their impact on our beings
  • Heating and cooling our living spaces has removed many of us in industrialized countries from the seasonal fluctuations of time.

Some cities in the northern climes resemble those expensive environments for hamsters that delight the children of the wealthy — temperature-regulated transparent tubes connecting place to place.

Will outerwear eventually become obsolete?

WHEN we sleep vs. how and why we sleep

Chronobiologists focus primarily on sleep timing. They are attempting to discover species-specific endogenous rhythms (like internal rhythms in humans, for example) — rhythms that determine how long we are awake, how long we sleep, preferred/most beneficial times and timing for either, and so on.

They are looking at and looking for recurring patterns, including what happens when an individual in any species falls “off phase.”

Related Posts about Sleep TIMING:

More to come, so STAY TUNED

I’ve written quite a bit about sleep timing issues, which you can investigate by clicking on the LinkList to my articles in the Sleep Series, and I’m not nearly ready to leave the topic behind.

In upcoming articles we’ll take a closer look at what happens when we sleep, dream-state patterns, and perhaps explore more about Non-REM Sleep – four stages that range from light dozing to deep sleep — and so much MORE!

So stay tuned — there’s A LOT to know, and a lot more to come.
Get it here, while its still free for the taking!

Struggling with Sleep? If you want some personalized help with untangling some sleep-struggles and developing new habits that can make things A LOT easier, that is part of what I DO. And I’d love to do it with you. Get in touch if you want to talk about it.

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Articles about Sleep

Other Comorbidities Articles

Interesting Sleep Resources ’round the ‘net

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

57 Responses to Sleep Timing and Time Tangles

  1. Christy B says:

    Sleep is essential and ties into so many things! I feel crabby when I don’t get enough sleep. And how about how different people need different amounts of it? The timing aspects of sleep that you present here are so intriguing. Really there are studies that show us so much.. and the research continues! Thanks for this comprehensive resource, Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dgkaye says:

    Loving this series already M. So many factors disrupt sleep from hormones, to aging, to digital background lighting. I’ve been dubbed a ‘nighthawk’ all my life. Since childhood I never slept deeply, growing up in a dysfunctional home, staying up late in my room to eavesdrop on my parent’s arguments. My mind has a hard time shutting down (like you I surmise?) 🙂

    No matter how tired I am, only reading in bed puts me to sleep and the only way to not wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back asleep is to wear a sleep mask – yes like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But it works! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mistermuse says:

    Very interesting. It often takes me a while to fall asleep, but my wife falls sound asleep practically the second her head hits the pillow (even with the light on). When I ask her ‘secret,’ she says she simply “turns off her brain.” I wish it were as easy as that for me, but my brain is always thinking, and I can’t stop it just by wanting to or trying to will it to.

    Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem to be effecting (or is it affecting?) my health — perhaps because I’ve decided to just live with it and not worry about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you – that “turning off my brain” thing is beyond me. She also may need more sleep than you do, so is responding to a bit of sleep debt. Science says it’s normal to take a bit of time to fall asleep otherwise.

      But you’ve figured out the secret – not stressing about it. First stage sleep often looks and feels like “skimming” – and as long as you don’t agonize about NOT “falling asleep” (which keeps you awake), you’ll naturally deepen into phase-2. Eventually – lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lwbut says:

    Sleep certainly is of vital importance to our human species, one that benefits us in many different ways.

    While i’m sure there have been and will continue to be many interesting insights into the topic provided by the researchers (given sufficient funding of course – wherever that may come from – who would benefit financially, i wonder?) I believe that although we are all members of the same species, we all have such different lives, body’s and lifestyles that we are effectively all individually different with regards our quality of, and ability to, sleep. Even as to our need for sleep (when, how long for, depth, quality, naps etc).

    Learning to listen to what our bodies tell us, taking the time to do this in our often far too busy to lives may hold the best potential for beneficial results for our own sleep pattern (augmented by someone who has the technical knowledge/experience would be ideal, but i imagine few would have the time or wherewithall to have such a star handy?) 🙂

    Basically the problem as i see it is – what might work for one (as shown in strictly controlled laboratory conditions) is unlikely to work for the next person who cannot live, and likely never has lived, under such conditions.

    We, and our resultant lifestyles are really far too complicated for simple solutions. ( Not that i’m suggsting you are offering or looking for simple ones!) 😉

    And then there is the added complication for researchers of the ‘observer’ factor. Observing a thing can fundamentally alter the thing we observe so that it is not the same as what we wanted to observe merely by that act of us observing it. Making any conclusions or real world applications problematic.

    Which i think is what you alluded to above?

    Sleep well Sweet Madelyn! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this well-considered comment, Love – I am in total agreement with ALL of it (especially the bizarre conditions under which sleep is studied in the labs). Some day, perhaps, we’ll have less intrusive ways to figure things out, but for now it is what it is – and it certainly isn’t perfect (or even “normal”).

      All information is simply that – more to know and consider. None of us are that statistical “average Joe or Joanna in the study” – even if we were, in fact, one of the study participants. We are far too different to slip easily into statistical norms.

      STILL, I will always advocate for more research and research FUNDING- especially now, with the idiot brigade in charge of the purse strings here in America.

      Thank you, Love – and G’nite.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lwbut says:


        I wish it were more widely understood – that information is not the same as knowledge.

        Data (info) has it’s uses but it is very unwise to think because you have some information you have the correct knowledge of what that data means as it might apply to you, or as it could apply to others.

        I think this is one of ‘those’ topics we could easily talk all night over! 😉

        Probably best to sleep on it first tho’ – yes? 🙂


        Liked by 1 person

        • I shall shut down the computer after I post a quote I’ll bet you’ll love — from my coaching mentor, the late Thomas J. Leonard (founder of the “vanilla” coaching industry, from whose wisdom I based many of the ideas in my ADD/EFD coach training):

          Information is the booby prize.

          Off to bed with my puppy – who has been nagging me for an hour now.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Chuck says:

    I have no idea what started my sleep disorder. I have no problem going to sleep but staying that way is the problem. Of course, like so many men my age, we can’t make it through the night without a bathroom call or two. I struggled with my sleep for a lengthy period and finally, my primary physician said don’t worry about it. I have a prescription for a sleep aid and it works for me. It might not be the best remedy, but I’m sticking to it. Your posts are always in-depth and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I always say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I’m glad your sleep aids work for you, and would be the LAST person to encourage you to give them up! Getting sufficient sleep is important for health in general – not to mention brain-support so that we can THINK!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to ring in, Chuck.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very informative and I love the analogies… Enjoying all of your posts, Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. An interesting post, Madelyn. I don’t struggle to sleep but my husband does. I wonder if breaking the cycle of waking up at night by using sleeping pills for a short period helps at all to re-set you sleep cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Theories are mixed, Robbie. Some believe they are helpful short-term, others believe they are harmful in the long run.

      There are also different types of pills. Some are designed so that the medication gives a sort of “bump” delivery after a few hours for folks who have trouble staying asleep, some deliver “up front,” primarily to help people get to sleep initially but don’t last all night. And many folks experience a “hangover” effect to one or either – mentally slow the next day – which, of course, defeats the purpose.

      So it’s not a simple question with a simple answer. If he’s truly struggling, a general practitioner probably won’t have enough current information to help him. He’ll need a someone who specializes in sleep – and even then there are those who sub-specialize and aren’t always aware of new research outside their areas. We still have MUCH to learn about sleep and how it works.

      He has my sympathies. I get enough sleep once my brain finally decides it’s time but, as you may recall, my hours are bizarre. If I could have somehow gotten a reliable wake-up so I could have taken a job with “standard” hours, I would have been chronically sleep deprived, not able to sleep until the wee hours.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you Madelyn. I find my sleep pattern and healthy sleep depends on number of things. I manage to go to the bathroom in the dark as lights do affect my ability to fall asleep again. One of my best therapies for healthy sleep is using my SAD lamp for 30 minutes every morning. It has been a huge help given that I have fibromyalgia which has insomnia as a major symptom. Happy days. 🌼

    Liked by 1 person

  9. noelleg44 says:

    Good series, Madelyn. My husband rarely gets to sleep before 2-3 AM because of his back and pains in his legs (surgery coming up). I rarely have problems falling asleep – the only times I struggle is when something really emotional happened in my life and my mind can’t shut down!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Noelle. My sympathies to your husband.

      Since many of my early sleep articles were quite long (and, I surmise, many folks had too little time or focus ability to read them), I am trying to keep the newer ones as brief as possible. Frustrating, however, since I must leave out much that would be helpful to anyone struggling – but the links are always there for folks who can take the time for more.

      I have that brain-chatter problem as well. I fall asleep best to science podcasts I’ve already heard. A great way to keep my mind focused away from my day without encouraging my brain to remain awake to grab the info. Whatever it takes, right?


  10. -Eugenia says:

    I find a nightlight in the bathroom works for me. No stubbed toes that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some folks who have trouble even with nightlights find they can get back to sleep with a nightlight of a different color (thus, different light wave length). Do you use a standard one – the kind most easily found and usually cheapest – or did you have to purchase one specially?


      • -Eugenia says:

        I use a standard one and it is a pretty decent one as it lights up my entire bathroom! I have a salt lamp in my bedroom, which has a nice warm glow.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The one in my bathroom is tinted and just glows softly from a socket by the sink. It keeps me from breaking my neck, since the room light switch is not by the door, but also by the sink – lol.

          I have seen those salt lamps in stores but have never seen one “in action.” Most of the ones I’ve seen look sort-of peach colored, which I imagine would produce a nice warm glow. Does it make the room smell like salt air too?


  11. Jennie says:

    Fascinating, Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yeah! Yeah. I know. Ts not just ADHD. Brain injury. Depression, the list goes on right? Cheers,H

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lucy Brazier says:

    So very interesting, as ever. Who would have thought that something most of us take for granted could be so complex!


  14. thanks for sharing such interesting facts… it is true to turn the light on and to leave the bed at night can be the trigger for our brain to switch to wake up mode… but I have no idea how to avoid this… ;o(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU for ringing in. We really can’t avoid turning on some light so we don’t kill ourselves on the way to the bathroom! 😦

      But we can avoid turning on a BRIGHT light, and we can go back to bed in total darkness (or use a sleep mask), and remind ourselves that if we can’t get right back to sleep that the light was the reason — and stay in bed in the dark, even if it takes forever. If we don’t, we’re setting our chronorhythms up to have even more trouble the next night – and it will domino.


      • sadly it is… an to walk around in the darkness is no solution… a damaged toe or a bump on the head is also no guarantor for a relaxing sleep ;o)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I leave a nightlight on in the bathroom – but light doesn’t seem to bother me. I practically sleepwalk there and back – and often turn on a light I neglect to turn off.

          Some nights, except for the fact that I sometimes also neglect to flush the toilet in my sleepy state, I’d swear I didn’t get up at all.

          Once I finally do get to sleep, it seems that very little awakens me.


  15. Pingback: Everything you ever wanted to know about SLEEP | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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