If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, you may have experienced difficulty in getting your child to sleep at a reasonable hour. As it turns out, this is a common issue amongst parents as up to 70 percent of children with ADHD have difficulty falling asleep, according to CHADD. Some common sleep problems can range from a child needing a particular thing to be able to fall asleep (like their parents being present) to a child experiencing anxiety about specific nighttime fears such as the dark or being alone in bed. Even still, other children may simply stall and resist going to bed, resulting in them coming in and out of the bedroom for hours on end. “Individuals with ADHD may feel more alert in the evening than in other parts of their day,” Jeincy Duarte, PsyD, BCBA, a clinical psychologist of ADHD and behavior disorders at the Child Mind Institute, tells SheKnows.
“In the case of children, this may look like a child having trouble winding down to prepare for bedtime and falling asleep. Studies have shown that children with ADHD may exhibit bedtime resistance, require more time to fall asleep, experience frequent night awakenings, have trouble waking up in the morning and have shorter total sleep time when compared to peers. Overall, sleep problems may become evident early in the child’s life — toddler and preschool years — and can extend to adolescence and adult life.” For parents concerned about their child’s sleep habits, the good news is there are a number of things you can do. Read below for suggestions from Dr. Duarte on how to help your child get a better night’s sleep.
Maintain a consistent bedtime routine
One of the main things parents should do to help their kids is to keep a regular bedtime routine each night, consisting of calm activities such as reading or taking a warm bath. “Other calm activities may include meditation or deep breathing exercises depending on the child’s age and interest,” says Dr. Duarte. Rebecca Ashby, a parent to a child with ADHD agrees, adding that even if it changes your plans, keeping their schedule is crucial.
“Neurodiverse children thrive on schedule,” says Ashby. “While it might put a wrench in some of your social plans, sacrificing some of these plans will pay off as your child will feel comfort in a schedule. We keep electronics to a minimum or nothing after a certain hour of the day. We switch to reading books to tire his mind, do lots of snuggling at bedtime and talk about our day. We love using a meditation app combined with diffusing essential oils for a calming and holistic approach to sleeping.”
Promote a consistent sleep schedule
In addition to maintaining a consistent bedtime routine, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is equally important in developing good sleep habits. This means following the same bedtime and wake-up time (yes, even on weekends). Allowing children to stay up later on weekends and wake up later the next morning only makes weekdays more difficult. Remember, younger children need more sleep than older children, so make sure your child is going to bed at a time appropriate for their age. If they are fighting fatigue despite the set schedule, you might need to increase his or her sleep time.
Avoid high-energy activities, screen time and caffeine before bedtime
It’s understandable that it can be very challenging to avoid screens before bed, but limiting rough play, screen time, etc. at least one hour before bedtime can help a lot and will definitely be worth it. “Studies show that when a child experiences ongoing sleep difficulty, there may be worsening of ADHD symptoms, mood changes, behavioral problems,” says Dr. Duarte. “Sometimes this may look like aggression or acting out. They may also experience fatigue or tiredness, which often looks like increased impulsivity and hyperactivity, poor concentration, learning, memory, and decision-making issues.”
If you’re struggling, try starting to limit screen use at 10 minutes, then 20 minutes and so forth. If you do it in increments and gradually stretch it out longer, it may make the process a little bit easier. You will also want to avoid sugary substances such as chocolate, sodas, and iced tea before bedtime.
Encourage daily physical activity and exercise
A recent study from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that regular physical activity decreased the severity of ADHD symptoms and improved cognitive functioning in children. While exercise may not necessarily be the whole solution for a child who’s struggling with ADHD, it can definitely help in terms of managing symptoms, having a positive effect on concentration, developing sleep habits and overall playing an important part in the physical and mental development for all kids.
Ensure their bedroom is comfortable and free of distractions
Last but not least, parents will want to ensure their child’s bedroom is the perfect comfy haven. This means making sure there are no toys or electronics in the room so as to not distract them while they try to get to sleep. You’ll also want to make sure their room is cool (research shows a cooler room helps people fall asleep easier), comfortable, and dark enough, with the exception of a dim night light if needed.