By Dennis Thompson Jr. Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Most kids with ADHD have problems sleeping. As a parent, you can create an environment in which sleep may come more easily.
Many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have problems getting good quality sleep. The disorder makes it difficult for children to fall asleep and then sleep deeply, especially if they are affected by other sleep conditions, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
Studies estimate that between half and three-quarters of children with ADHD experience sleep problems.
These problems can include:
Snoring and Sleep Apnea – Habitual snoring is three times more common in people with ADHD than in those with other psychiatric disorders.Snoring can also be a sign of sleep apnea, which is when a person stops breathing for very short periods of time while asleep. Sleep apnea disturbs restful sleep, often without the person being aware of it.
Restless Leg Syndrome – As many as one in four children with ADHD will experience this condition, in which their legs move and jerk to relieve perceived discomfort.
Periodic Limb Movement Syndrome – This is a condition similar to restless leg syndrome, but it involves the arms as well as the legs.
Difficulty Falling Asleep – In one study, between 71 and 84 percent of children with ADHD had a hard time falling asleep.
Difficulty Staying Asleep – In the same study, between 27 and 49 percent of children with ADHD tossed and turned in bed, and between 25 and 36 percent woke frequently during the night.
10 Tips for Better Sleep Parents can do a lot to help a child with ADHD get a better night’s rest:
1. Create a Bedtime Ritual – Ritualized behavior can send a strong signal to the brain that it is time to go to sleep. Create a simple ritual for your child’s bedtime, so it can be followed even if you’re not around.
2. Make Calming Down Part of that Ritual – Have your child do a relaxing activity prior to bedtime. “Spend about 20 minutes or half an hour in bed with them, reading to them or listening to music — doing something to soothe the child and help him sleep,” says Constance Wood, PhD, a practicing psychologist in Houston. That old standby, a glass of warm milk, may help.
3. Unplug Before Bedtime – Television and video games can rev up a kid who should be calming down. Turn off all the electronics well before bedtime.
4. Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep – Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark, quiet, and free of any distractions that might impede or disturb sleep. Put away toys and dim the lights.
5. Reserve the Bedroom and the Bed Mainly for Sleeping – Remove most toys, games, and other distractions from your child’s bedroom, and make sure playtime occurs in common areas of your home. Don’t let your child play in bed or spend a lot of time in the bedroom — this reinforces that both are reserved for sleeping.
6. Encourage Self-Soothing – Providing a special blanket or stuffed toy for your child to hold while going to sleep can be soothing. The less a child needs your presence, the more easily she will be able to get back to sleep on her own if she wakes up in the middle of the night.
7. Enforce a Consistent Sleeping and Waking Schedule – Make sure your child stays awake during the day, so he’ll be sleepy at bedtime. Regular bedtimes and waking times can help a young body establish a rhythm.
8. Cut Out Caffeine and Sugar – Caffeine and sugar are in a lot of foods, and both are stimulating and can keep your child up late. Read labels and make sure foods and drinks your child has in the evening are caffeine-free and contain very little sugar.
9. Treat Medical Issues – Consult your doctor regarding medical problems like allergies or asthma that could be contributing to snoring, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders.
10. Praise Successful Sleep – Give your child praise when she makes it through the night with few or no sleep disturbances. This will help reinforce the importance of sleeping quietly through the night. Sleeplessness is a common problem for children with ADHD, but not an insurmountable one. Parents involved in their children’s lives should be able to help teach how to successfully nod off night after night.