Children with ADHD can find it difficult to relax and fall asleep at night. Many children with ADHD suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, and ADHD medications can interfere with the ability to sleep well. And often, ADHD symptoms become worse when children have a lack of sleep.
Though children with ADHD may struggle to get good sleep, there are options. Sleep therapy, medications, and/or good sleep hygiene can help children with ADHD make the most of their sleep and get the rest they need.
ADHD and Sleep Struggles
Sleep problems are common among children with ADHD, with as many as 50 percent of children with ADHD suffering from sleep problems. This is much higher than the 6 percent of children without ADHD who have sleep problems or disorders.
Children with ADHD often experience higher levels of daytime sleepiness, are more than twice as likely to suffer from sleep-disordered breathing, and are more likely to have periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome, which can interfere with restful sleep. And unfortunately, sleep deprivation can make ADHD symptoms worse.
Children with ADHD may be affected by sleep struggles including:
Bedtime anxiety or resistance
Difficulty falling asleep or waking up
Sleep-disordered breathing, including sleep apnea
Waking during the night
Restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder
Delayed sleep-phase disorder
Parasomnias, such as sleepwalking
ADHD Medication and Sleep
Stimulants such as Ritalin and Concerta are popular medications for treating children with ADHD. They are fast acting, working more quickly than nonstimulant medication. However, stimulant medication can affect sleep and has been correlated with disturbed sleep in 29 percent of children with ADHD. Methylphenidate may affect as many as 64 percent of children with ADHD who suffer from insomnia.
Long-acting ADHD medications (which last six to 12 hours) are typically preferred because they require fewer doses and can reduce mood variability. However, longer-acting medications often have more side effects, particularly with sleep problems.
ADHD Sleep Therapy
Children with ADHD sleep problems can be treated with sleep therapy. This can include sleep restriction and light therapy. With sleep restriction, a strict bedtime and wake schedule is followed and napping is not allowed. Light therapy uses an artificial light source to help reset the circadian cycle.
Insomnia in children with ADHD is sometimes treated with sleep medications. However, there can be side effects and medication may not be a good long term solution for children with insomnia and ADHD. Melatonin supplements may be used to help children with ADHD fall asleep.
Supporting Healthy Sleep
Some children with ADHD can improve sleep problems simply with better sleep habits. These are some of the ways you can help your child develop better sleep habits and have more restful nights:
Stick to a regular sleep and wake schedule, even on weekends and vacation. Avoid napping during the day.
Develop a consistent bedtime routine, giving them extra time (about an hour) to calm down before bed. Do the same thing every night, such as take a bath, brush teeth, and read a book before lights out.
Manage anxiety, allaying fears and helping older children organize homework and other responsibilities so nagging thoughts don’t have them preoccupied at night.
Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Choose an appropriate mattress and bedding, and make their room a quiet, dark, and cool place to sleep.
Manage screen time, avoiding too much screen exposure during the day and stopping screen time at least an hour before bed. The light from screens can confuse your child’s brain, making it think it’s daytime when it’s really time to go to bed.
Be careful about dietary stimulants, avoiding coffee, chocolate, sodas, and sugar in the hours before bed.
Avoid overstimulation during the day, keeping your daily life as calm and predictable as you can.
As you can see, although sleep issues are common, parents can help kids with ADHD get quality sleep. However, it will take diligence and patience on the part of both the parents and the kids.
Do you have a child with ADHD who struggles to get a good night’s sleep? What have you tried to help them? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys board games and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.