Do I Have To Take My ADHD Medication At a Certain Time?

Timing of ADHD Medication
A patient holding an ADHD medication and wondering what is the best time to take their treatment.

Knowing what tasks you need the most focus for will help you understand when to schedule your ADHD meds. ADHD medication doesn’t work 24 hours a day.

Albert Hernandez

June 27, 2022
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read

June 27, 2022
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read


Every day, new patients throughout El Paso, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and other areas of the Southwest seek treatment for their adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most of our patients report feeling much better after they start treatment with a stimulant such as Concerta, Adderall, or Vyvanse.

When I meet with a new patient to help them manage the symptoms of their adult ADD or ADHD, my patient sometimes expects me to tell them the exact schedule for taking their new medication. I educate my patients on how long the coverage for their stimulant medication will be, and what side effects they should look out for. I also help patients brainstorm exactly when in their day they will need their ADHD medication to be maximally effective. But I let my patients know I don’t choose what time of day patients will take their ADHD medication--patients do.

"Ultimately, once people see how their ADHD medication is working for them, they will learn the optimal timing for their medication dose."

How ADD/ADHD Symptoms Can Interfere With Work or School

If an adult seeks treatment for ADHD, it’s usually because they notice symptoms that are causing challenges in their work or school life. These symptoms can include:

  • Procrastination
  • Talking over others or talking too much
  • Being unable to sit still for long periods of timePrescription pill bottle that is spilling ADHD tablets.
  • Losing important items
  • Not paying attention when spoken to
  • Struggling to finish tasks

When an adult is experiencing any of these symptoms, the problems they can produce quickly become evident in highly task-driven environments like work or school. Being unable to start or complete complex work tasks can lead to written warnings or being placed on a performance improvement plan. Talking over your boss or colleagues can lead to tension in the workplace. If a student struggles to pay attention in lecture, they may perform poorly on tests. When you frequently lose notes or other school-related items, you might fail lab assignments or not complete papers correctly.

In addition to these direct challenges to a person’s career or school performance, ADHD symptoms can also indirectly cause distress in an adult’s home life. A mom who has had to work extremely hard all day to remain focused at her job may be exhausted by the time she is at home with her small children. She then may have low patience and overreact to their scattered toys or their roughhousing. A husband who is stressed and embarrassed about how badly he’s doing in a course during the day may lash out and behave rudely to his wife when he gets home from school.

Being properly treated for ADHD can help these adults both at work or school and at home. When a patient is more organized and less stressed at work, he or she is calmer and has more energy at home. 

Stimulant Medication for the Treatment of ADD/ADHD

When a person has ADD/ADHD, their neurons (brain cells) aren’t passing along messages as effectively as they need to. Because of this breakdown in the communication between neurons in the brain, people with ADHD show symptoms of distractibility and impulsivity. Stimulant medication helps the brain cells of a person with ADHD use the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) dopamine and/or norepinephrine more efficiently. When a person’s neurons can access and utilize the correct amounts of these neurotransmitters, their symptoms of ADHD are better-managed. Then, they perform better at work or school, and they often feel more relaxed and connected in their home life.

I generally recommend that my patients with ADHD start treatment with stimulant medication. Patients can try a short-acting stimulant like Ritalin, or a long-acting stimulant like Vyvanse, Adderall, or Concerta. Most patients report an improvement in their symptoms of ADHD starting after the first dose of stimulant medication that they take.

Timing Considerations For Stimulant Medication

ADHD medications can be taken at certain times of the day depending upon a patient’s lifestyle and preferences.

Extended-release stimulants like Vyvanse, Concerta, or Adderall can last up to 12 hours. Immediate-release stimulants like Ritalin are effective for between two and four hours. It’s not reasonable to expect any stimulant medication to offer 24-hour coverage. Nor do most patients wish for around-the-clock effects from their stimulant medication. Instead, and most often, people want their ADHD medication to work for them when they need it most, which is usually when they require focus at work or school. If a patient is both a full-time worker and a full-time student, they will have to decide which area of their life needs coverage from their stimulant medication. Their Concerta, Adderall, or other stimulants likely can’t cover them for both time periods.

So, I let patients know once they start taking their stimulant, their body will let them know how much coverage it will give them each day. From there, patients can take their Ritalin, Vyvanse, or other stimulants when it is most needed and when it won’t negatively impact affect their sleep. It’s important to avoid taking your stimulant medication within a few hours of going to bed, as stimulants will often disrupt sleep if they are still active in your body at bedtime. Just like a day-shift worker, if patients work night-shift, they should take their stimulant 1-2 hours before starting their shift.

With proper evaluation and support, patients with adult ADHD can find their best stimulant medication and the correct timing for that medication. If you live in Las Cruces, El Paso, Albuquerque, or another area that Upper Valley Behavioral Health serves, come to us for your ADHD medication needs. Fill out our application for treatment today, and our team will reach out to you to schedule your initial appointment.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

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