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.”