As a parent of an ADHD child, do you ever stop to wonder if your child has problems sleeping? If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sleeping problems and disorders are commonplace in children with ADHD all over the world.
The first thing I’d like you to know is that the amount of sleep your ADHD child gets shouldn’t be your sole focus: a lot of ADHD kids seem to do better when they get a little less sleep than their non-ADHD peers.
How much less?
Many ADHD children do fine with an hour or so less than the recommended sleep durations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (recommendations endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics): 10 to 13 hours for preschoolers (3- to 5-years-old); 9 to 12 hours for children 6- to 12-years-old; and 8 to 10 hours for teenagers.1
Rather than concentrating on the quantity of your child’s sleep, concentrate on the quality and ask yourself these questions:
- Does my child resist going to bed?
- Is he anxious about falling asleep?
- Does she have difficulty falling asleep? (Almost a given.)
- Does he regularly wake one or more times throughout the night?
- Does she have difficulty waking up in the morning?
- Does he have daytime fatigue, perhaps falling asleep at his desk during class?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s important to treat your child’s sleep issues that contribute to ADHD.
Left untreated, a seemingly small-scale sleep problem can develop over many years into chronic insomnia, with your child sleeping only five to six hours a night. No child can feel good or function well with so little sleep.
Fortunately, treating sleep problems and disorders are surprisingly simple.
Treating Sleeping Problems in ADHD Children
There are many ways to treat sleep issues and disorders in ADHD children. From simple supplements like magnesium and melatonin, to sleeping aid medicine and even surgery in some cases. I discuss the why’s and how’s of all of these methods in my award-winning book, Finally Focused.
But there is also no substitute for establishing proper sleep hygiene in the first place.
Night follows day in a regular pattern—and sleep should naturally follow along. Which means that one of the best ways to help your ADHD child sleep is to establish a regular sleep-wake pattern that matches the rhythms of daytime and nighttime.
Sleep experts call these habitual patterns “sleep hygiene”—just as habitual dental hygiene helps prevent and control dental problems like cavities, habitual sleep hygiene helps prevent and control sleep problems like difficulty falling asleep. In fact, studies show that sleep hygiene, consistently implemented, can clear up nearly all cases of insomnia in children.2
For example, one study compared ADHD children who used sleep hygiene techniques to those who didn’t.3
The kids with good sleep hygiene had fewer sleep problems, slept more—and had a greater decrease in ADHD symptoms, including better behavior, more focus, better ability to perform daily tasks and better memory. And they were less likely to be late for school, too!
The Best Techniques for Establishing Sleep Hygiene in ADHD Children
#1: Establish a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up.
The most important habit for your ADHD child is going to bed and waking up at the same time, most nights and mornings. For the best results, pick set times that work for you and your child, and try not to vary them by more than 60 to 90 minutes. This regular pattern of going to bed and getting up will help establish a sleep-wake rhythm that is ideally conducive to falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up refreshed.
#2: Design a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine.
A regular routine of relaxing activities, starting 30 minutes before bedtime, can help your child sleep. The routine might include: A warm bath, reading a story, singing a lullaby, and shutting the blinds, turning off the lights, and closing the door repeatedly every night.
#3: Set up a “sleep friendly” bedroom.
The best environment for sleeping is quiet, dark, and with a comfortable temperature. Your child suffering from ADHD must have a good environment to treat sleep issues.
#4: Check the digital devices at the bedroom door.
Screen time and sleep time don’t mix. An hour or two before bedtime, turn off any TV or video games. This also goes for cellphones, computers or other devices while going to sleep
#5: Teach your child one or more relaxation techniques.
Deep breathing can be very relaxing and effective. Ask your child to breathe in through her nose for a count of four, pause two to three seconds, and breathe out through her nose for a count of four. Have her do this a couple of times once she’s in bed.
Or teach him progressive relaxation: progressively tensing and relaxing muscle groups in the body, for a few seconds each. A typical sequence: feet, calves, thighs, hands, forearms, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and face.
If your child is anxious, ask her to keep a bedtime “worry journal,” writing down everything she’s worried about—and forgetting about it until morning.
#6: Ask your child to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
Colas, energy drinks and other caffeine-containing beverages—particularly if they’re consumed six hours or less before bedtime—can stimulate your child, making falling asleep more difficult.
Bottom line: You can usually solve your ADHD child’s sleep issues with natural sleep aids like magnesium and sleep hygiene (and, in the most severe cases, with a prescription drug). But solving a sleep disorder almost always requires medical care.
For more information on how to treat ADHD with a wide variety of methods, supplements, and medicine, please see my award-winning book, Finally Focused.
Yours in health,
James M. Greenblatt, MD
Founder, Medical Director, Psychiatry Redefined
- Paruthi S, et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2016 Jun 15;12(6):785-6.
- Moturi S & Avis K. Assessment and treatment of common pediatric sleep disorders. Psychiatry, 2010 Jun;7(6):24-37.
- Hiscock H, et al. Impact of a behavioural sleep intervention on symptoms and sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and parental mental health: randomised controlled trial. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 2015 Jan 20;350:h68.