A: There is a clear relationship between ADHD and poor sleep. Individuals with ADHD often experience difficulties with falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up in the morning.
The website Understood lists the following tendencies amongst children with ADHD that can stop them from getting a good night’s sleep:
- Difficulties with self-regulation can stop children with ADHD from moving from ‘active mode’ to ‘wind-down mode’ at the end of the day
- Children with ADHD can be more prone to nightmares, bedwetting and sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome
- Tasks, such as homework, may have been put off until the last minute, creating a hectic evening
- Teenagers with ADHD may report feeling more productive during quiet nighttime hours and so can easily fall into the habit of staying up too late too often
- Many children with ADHD also have anxiety problems. Their anxious feelings can emerge at night when there are fewer activities to distract them. This causes them to have trouble falling or staying asleep
Here are some tips on supporting the sleeping pattern of your child with ADHD:
Keep track of your child’s sleep patterns
By monitoring your child’s individual sleep patterns, feeling tired during the day, etc, you may be able to spot specific triggers.
Encourage physical activity after school
Whether it’s sports, physical play, sensory-based play or an active hobby, getting enough exercise contributes to better sleeping habits. Be sure that you leave enough time after physical activities to allow the body to calm down before beginning the bedtime routine.
Help your child plan and prioritise homework tasks
The team at Understood suggest using checklists for homework to help your child keep on top of their homework and complete it well before bedtime.
Create and maintain a bedtime routine
This appears like an obvious idea, however, it is very successful when put in place effectively. A consistent routine assists in prompting the brain to feel relaxed and ready for sleep. A sleep routine includes getting ready in sleepwear, going to bed at typically the same time each weeknight, doing a calming, wind-down activity and then bedtime. Some children find bedtime checklists helpful.
Maintain a consistent bedtime
In her guide on improving sleep for children with ADHD, OT Alescia Ford-Lanza recommends keeping bedtime within a half hour time period each night. For example, setting bedtime between 9 and 9:30pm each night (or whatever is appropriate to your child) gives some room for flexibility but maintains the routine, which is critical.
Limit screen time
Set limits on how late your child is allowed to use a screen. There are concerns that the blue light emitted from screens on phones and tablets can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin.
Find a calming strategy that works for your child
Calming strategies are a supportive way to enable your body to relax and settle before sleep. Everyone will have their own activity that works for them, for example, taking a warm bath, reading, listening to calming music, etc.
Avoid food and drink that contains caffeine (eg, chocolate) as far as possible and particularly from the late afternoon onwards.
Consider the sensory experience of the environment
Environmental modification can support your child’s sleep. This can include using blackout blinds to keep the bedroom dark; using a white noise machine to block out distracting sounds; using a thermostat to steady the room temperature; perhaps using a weighted blanket or heavier blankets at the foot of the bed, etc . These preferences will be individual to your child’s preferences.
Include any sleep problems when discussing your child’s diagnosis with their doctor or therapist. This is where your notes on your child’s sleeping and waking habits will be very useful.