School-age children should get around 9-12 hours of sleep per day, and teens should get 8-10. If your child doesn't meet that mark, what can you do?
If you're a parent who wants to know how to help your child with ADHD go to sleep, you aren't alone. Sleep problems are common in those who live with ADHD, but it is possible to address them effectively. In this article, I will talk about how ADHD impacts sleep and what to do about it. To start, I will go over tips like how the reduction of screen time, dietary changes, and routines can help. Finally, I'll address when to talk to a medical provider and what they might recommend for a child with ADHD who needs help sleeping.
Can ADHD Impact Sleep?
ADHD can most certainly impact sleep. Not only can ADHD symptoms themselves be disruptive, but sleep problems, including sleep disorders, are very common among people with ADHD. From research, here is what we know about ADHD and sleep:
- When compared to the general population, people who live with ADHD are more likely to have a sleep disorder and experience shorter durations of sleep.
- In addition to shorter durations of sleep, many people with ADHD report poor sleep quality.
- Lack of sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms.
For many kids and adults with sleep problems and ADHD, lack of sleep and worsened ADHD symptoms - or other health problems - attributed to lack of sleep can be a vicious cycle. That said, there are things that you do to help your child with ADHD get the high-quality sleep they need.
How to Help Your Child with ADHD Sleep
Strong sleep hygiene practices are important throughout life; not just in childhood. Implement these practices into your child's routine now to aid healthy sleep and set them up for long-term success.
Reduce Screen Time at Night
While light exposure of any kind can hinder the natural release of melatonin in the body, blue light suppresses melatonin and disrupts circadian rhythms more intensely and for a longer period of time. Blue light is the kind of light that we take in when we look at screens or electronic devices, such as laptops and smartphones. It is wise to limit the use of these items before bed. You may replace screen time at night with other activities, such as a bath, yoga, or reading, that encourage relaxation.
Create a Dark Environment
To set your child up for a good night of sleep, it's essential to create a dark environment.
We discussed the impact of light on the body; since the body associates light with wakefulness, it's important to get daylight during waking hours. Exposure to light can include direct outdoor time e.g. playing outside, windows that let light in at home and at school, and so on.
Similarly, darkness prompts the body to rest. Experts recommend that individuals sleep in a cool, fully dark room. When your child is exposed to light during the day and dark at night, it plays a role in allowing the body to regulate sleep patterns naturally.
This is yet another reason to remove electronics from the room, as even small sources of light, like a light on a silenced laptop or phone, can have an impact.
Think about whether or not diet may play a role in your child's sleep. Here are three tips that can support restful sleep:
- Eat regular, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.
- Avoid caffeine, especially before bed.
- Be mindful of sugar intake, especially before bed.
At night, certain snacks and beverages may help promote sleep. Caffeine-free herbal teas and snacks that include ingredients such as nuts or nut butter, dairy, and bananas, are often child-friendly and easy to incorporate.
Stick to a Routine
To promote a healthy sleep schedule, it is recommended that individuals try to fall asleep and wake up at around the same time each day.
A supportive bedtime routine can also help. On top of standard nightly tasks such as dental care and bathing, many parents read to their kids before bed, give them a warm beverage each night, or engage in other activities that help kids wind down before they go to sleep.
When you do these things regularly, your child's brain will start to connect these activities with rest and will signal to the body that it's time to sleep when you engage in their nighttime routine.
More Exercise and Movement During the Day
Extensive research shows us that exercise and movement help people with ADHD in many different ways, ranging from improved scores in mathematics and reading to symptom reduction. It's also an excellent way to help children and adults alike get better sleep at night. Better yet, many kids find solace in soccer, gymnastics, track, and other sports. These activities can boost self-esteem, increase social connectedness, and more.
If you haven't already, sign your child up for an active hobby they enjoy or simply use exercise ideas for kids with ADHD, such as outdoor play, hiking, running, dance, hula hooping, jump rope, and so on.
To the extent that you can, eliminate or reduce any sounds that may be inconsistent, disruptive, or lead to distraction. To help your child with ADHD sleep, silence phones, television, and other sources of noise. Keep the noise level low throughout the home once they go to bed, as well as when bedtime is approaching, to avoid stimulation.
There is a notable caveat to this rule, which is that white noise can actually help people fall asleep more quickly. If you can't eliminate all of the noise in the home or directly outside of it (e.g., traffic), white noise can drown it out, which is something to consider. Additionally, these sounds are often soothing and consistent, which can help a child fall asleep.
Ask a Medical Provider
If the sleep hygiene tips above don't work for your family, it may be time to ask a medical provider what you can do to help your child with ADHD go to sleep and maintain a regular sleep schedule. A medical provider may suggest:
- Supplements (e.g., magnesium) or other over-the-counter products, such as melatonin.
- Prescription medication for sleep.
- Other lifestyle changes.
Make sure that you discuss options such as over-the-counter products, including supplements, and medication changes with your child's doctor before you add them to your child's routine. At that visit, let the doctor know about all of the medications and supplements or other over-the-counter products that your child is taking. That way, they will be able to provide individualized guidance and help you avoid any potential medication interactions.
For those with ADHD, sleep can be a challenge. Consistent routines with sleep hygiene practices can help children with ADHD get the amount and quality of sleep that they need. If this is not effective, other interventions recommended by a physician, such as pharmaceutical interventions, may be valuable.