Why ADHD Children Don’t Sleep Much, and What you Can Do About It
Having a good night’s sleep can be a big problem for ADHD families. Sleep deprivation makes both adults and children irritable, impatient, and less efficient at everything. Adults who haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep are more likely to miss work. Studies show that not getting enough sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms, and can adversely affect working memory, a problem many children suffer from.
Here’s what you need to do to help your child with ADHD:
• Avoid sleeping pills: Most sleep medications that work well for adults haven’t been adequately tested for their safety and effectiveness in children. That goes for the over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin as well as prescription sleeping pills.
• Set a realistic bedtime and stick to it: Accept the fact that your child may need less sleep than other kids. If you put him to bed too early, there’s a chance that he’ll just lie there, wide awake, becoming increasingly anxious. Whatever bedtime you establish, enforce it on weekends as well as during the week. Letting your child stay up late on a Friday will disrupt the circadian clock.
• Nighttime rituals: Evening rituals signal the brain and body to slow down. The hour or so leading up to your child’s bedtime should be devoted to calm and relaxing activity. Violent programs and games should be off limits at this time. Tell or read a bedtime story to a younger child and allow older children to read in bed.
• Eat and drink right for a good night’s sleep: Avoid snacks 2-3 hours before bedtime. Digestion, especially foods with caffeine or sugar, can keep your child up. If he insists on snacking, give him warm milk, saltines, or a little turkey, which has the natural sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan. Your child should drink enough water during the day to prevent drinking water at bed time and a subsequent bathroom break later.
• Keep the room dark: In addition to cueing your child that it’s time for sleep, darkness eliminates the visual distractions that keep him up. If a child can’t see his toys, he’s less likely to get out of bed to play with them. If your child is afraid of the dark, make sure that they have a dim night light, and that it goes off once they fall asleep (use a timer).
• Look into relaxation techniques: Deep breathing or listening to soothing music can make it easier to fall asleep. A foot rub or back rub relaxes a restless child. Have your child focus on breathing or consider an evening prayer if you are religious.