The Night time Watchman Idea for ADHD Signs
My sleep pattern is terrible. I drop off at 2 a.m. and then wake up punctually at 4:22 a.m. to fret about unsolved problems for 30 minutes before either nodding off again or staring at the alarm clock until it goes off. In a strange or new environment, I will wake up every time the curtain flutters. I’m a pretty restless one-night stand.
This makes the next day or two a little tough, usually right when I need to be more awake to drive or work, which is actually fine because my ADHD energy leaves me no choice but to keep going until that Job is done. However, my sleep deterioration also correlates with my stress level and creates a long vicious cycle if the stressor is unresolved. For example, I only slept for an hour for a whole week because a disgusting manager pig threatened to export me to a job in Indonesia for three months. So why can everyone else sleep but we with ADHD mind can’t?
I recently pondered many of the positive and beneficial properties of ADHD. It’s true that we’re impulsive, always on, prone to overstimulation, and have been known to wake our partners up at 2 a.m. for a chat or on our phones when we’re not snoring. At the same time, however, we also have a gift that is actually very useful in many contexts and gives us an edge over neurotypical competition.
So why do over 70% of people with ADHD have such a messed up and stress-responsive circadian rhythm?
This is evolution, honey
Watchman’s theory holds that our hyperfocus and our ability to give equal attention to every element in our environment are actually refined through evolution. The theory is that people with ADHD are destined to be the perfect night watchmen and hunters of our tribes, and that most of our current pros and cons stem from this important role in which our “symptoms” would have saved lives.
[Read This Next: Uncomfortable Truths About the ADHD Nervous System]
I like this theory because it explains a lot, such as why we are overstimulated by busy environments and why we are so vigilant at night. We tend to be prone to fear – a stressful reaction to a perceived but unknown threat – and we go from 0 to 100 (“action mode”) faster than a Ducati when threats become real. We can create responsive plans and strategies in milliseconds, but we can also refine detailed problems and strategies through hyperfocus, which is a really useful set of instincts and switches when another tribe is making a morning attack and presenting multiple threats at the same time.
We speak quickly, especially when we’re excited, and convey tons of unfiltered information in a short amount of time. Time itself is also largely irrelevant at night, which explains why we generally work with a longer span of time. We also don’t get along well with predictable 9-5 chores like farming or accounting (not that we can’t either) because it’s not stimulating and too predictable (it almost gave me a nervous breakdown). We are also often the most effective actors when everything is burning and everyone else is losing their heads – it’s almost relaxing.
From a social point of view, it also makes sense. We protect and are loyal to anyone who shows us respect and kindness, but we do not have the social instincts necessary to fit into group environments as neurotypes do. We are great managers when we are in our element and a disproportionately large number of us are entrepreneurs and creative people. But that’s also why we are so ridiculously tough on ourselves when we fail, especially when that failure leads to injury to the people we care about or for whom we feel somehow responsible; 10,000 years ago, an overlooked threat could have ruined our tribe.
Outside the lines
They say that ADHD types are naturally the happiest. It’s true. When I go camping there is always that moment when the fire goes out, when people are sleeping around me and I feel very protective (I also do that on the long cab ride home from one night). I stay awake whether I like it or not, super vigilant for everything around me.
[Additional Reading: “How My ADHD Makes Me a More Dynamic, Resourceful, Passionate Leader”]
The challenging calm is broken by a thousand small noises, my brain sits there and assesses each individual for distance and threat, while in the darkness I recognize shapes around me, imagine fantastic things and think about everything else in life, or bring them quietly us to where we need to be on the long night drives. For me it is the right kind of rest, not to relax, but to find peace and to have a place in it. It feels strangely purposeful. This is especially amplified when I sleep next to someone I have strong feelings for (I become a very tired father if I ever have a baby) – every nice cold wakes me with a jerk.
The Watchman Theory would also explain why ADHD has been hiding under the radar of psychologists for so long (aside from the fact that symptoms are easily mistaken for other things). When a person with ADHD has the right job for them and often helps other people, they really rocks it so you don’t see the ADHD symptoms because they make it a success.
But finding that place is something most of us struggle with a lot more than neurotypical ones. Perhaps that’s because our evolutionarily most important role is now increasingly outdated and undervalued, being scrapped by advances in technology and changing societal values, our hunting instincts being relegated to treadmills and weekends when we can afford it, and now we’re all just trying nor to create something and find new ways to be essential in a society that values neurotypical traits above ours.
Watchmen Theory: The Next Steps
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Updated June 3, 2021
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