About 75% of kids with ADHD suffer from a sleep disorder.
ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is already known to cause difficulty focusing or being attentive for children. Adding a lack of sleep to that equation can be detrimental to friendships, school work, and overall quality of life.
“[For] children with ADHD, if they don’t get enough sleep, their hyperactivity [and] impulsivity may increase significantly,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical officer at HealthiNation and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Many of their symptoms may actually be tenfold if they’re not sleeping.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the vast majority of children with ADHD have to deal with: About 75% of kids with ADHD also have a sleep disorder, according to CHADD, an advocacy group for children and adults with ADHD. Not only can this lack of sleep exacerbate ADHD symptoms, but they can also increase the risk of physical and mental illnesses.
The problem stems primarily from changes in the circadian rhythm, according to CHADD. ADHD appears to alter the normal sleep-wake cycle, which can make it difficult for kids to feel tired when it’s time for bed, and alert when it’s time for school. They may take a long time to fall asleep, and they may feel sleepy and groggy throughout the day. On top of that, some medications for ADHD can affect sleep.
Tips for Better Sleep with ADHD
One of the best things you can do to help your child sleep better with ADHD is to follow good sleep hygiene: the habits conducive to regular, restful sleep. These are good habits for anyone to follow, but they’re especially important for those prone to poor sleep, such as children with ADHD.
To help your child with ADHD sleep better, try these tips:
Go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day. This helps train the body to get sleepy at the appropriate times. “We talk a lot about the importance of schedules with children with ADHD, and this is also true when it comes to bedtime,” says Dr. Parikh. An early bedtime is recommended.
Decrease screen time, especially before bed. Things like smartphones, tablets, and TVs emit a blue light that messes with the hormones that affect sleep. These types of entertainment in general can also be too stimulating before bed.
Stay active. Increasing activity levels can improve their overall health and help release energy, making them more tired at bedtime. This is especially helpful for kids who also have restless leg syndrome, which is common among those with ADHD.
Relax with your child before bed. Create a “quiet hour” before bed for quiet, calming activities (like reading or coloring) with your child. This can help prepare their body for sleep, with an added bonus of bonding with your child.
Use other relaxing habits. Try aromatherapy (especially calming scents like lavender), a white noise machine, calming music, warm baths, or cuddling.
Talk to your child’s doctor. “If your child is being treated with medication for ADHD, make sure to talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist if you’re seeing a lot of sleep problems,” says Dr. Parikh, “because many times that can be associated with the medication.” Melatonin might be a good option to improve sleep-related side effects in kids with ADHD, according to a 2019 study in Peuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.
“For many children, bedtime and sleep can be an issue, but especially with children with ADHD,” says Dr. Parikh. “So trying to keep a consistent routine [and] trying other relaxation techniques can be really helpful for a child.”
Dr. Parikh, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, is HealthiNation's chief medical editor.
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Schedules are so
important with children with ADHD and
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this also goes along with sleep.
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Making sure you have a consistent and
early bedtime can be really helpful for
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children with ADHD.
00:00:13,737 --> 00:00:15,686
But it may not be enough.
00:00:15,686 --> 00:00:18,991
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Decreasing screen time,
especially one hour before bed,
00:00:22,209 --> 00:00:27,111
is really important because screens can
increase and stimulate your child's brain.
00:00:27,111 --> 00:00:31,958
An hour before, we want to start relaxing
and giving a calming environment.
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Exercise is so important for all children,
but especially children with ADHD.
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Exercise helps with concentration,
focus, but especially sleep, too.
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So making sure your child gets at least 60
minutes of physical activity a day could
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go a long way when it comes to helping
your child with sleep problems.
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I usually recommend to my patients to,
an hour before,
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to start getting into a routine
of relaxing with your child.
00:00:57,274 --> 00:01:00,083
Get into bed and cuddle with them.
00:01:00,083 --> 00:01:04,886
Start reading a book and really have that
bonding time, because it helps relax
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everyone, and also makes your child feel
more secure and can help with sleep.
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There are some other relaxation methods
that can work with children with ADHD,
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like white noise or calming music.
00:01:16,949 --> 00:01:18,871
You may also try aromatherapy.
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Things like lavender may also calm them.
00:01:21,638 --> 00:01:24,951
If your child is being treated
with medication for ADHD,
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make sure to talk to your doctor or
psychiatrist if you're seeing a lot of
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sleep problems because many times it
can be associated with the medication.
00:01:33,666 --> 00:01:37,265
For many children, bedtime and
sleep can be an issue, but
00:01:37,265 --> 00:01:39,627
especially with children with ADHD.
00:01:39,627 --> 00:01:43,305
So trying to keep a consistent routine,
00:01:43,305 --> 00:01:48,569
trying other relaxation techniques
can be really helpful for a child.
00:01:48,569 --> 00:01:53,599
ADHD and sleep. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on August 14, 2019 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/adhd-and-sleep.)
ADHD and sleep disorders. Lanham, MD: CHADD. (Accessed on August 14, 2019 at https://chadd.org/about-adhd/adhd-and-sleep-disorders/.)
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): the basics. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health. (Accessed on August 14, 2019 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml.)
Masi G, Fantozzi P, Villafranca A, Tacchi A, Ricci F, Ruglioni L, Inguaggiato E, Pfanner C, Cortese S. Effects of melatonin in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with sleep diosrders after methylphenidate treatment. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019;15:663-7.