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How ADHD affects kids’ sleep — and what you can do

By Laura Tagliareni, PhD

At a Glance

  • Lack of sleep is a common problem among kids with ADHD.

  • Poor sleep can make it even harder for kids with ADHD to focus.

  • There are ways you can help your child get more sleep.

You can see how issues with attention, self-control, and executive functioning impact your child’s activities during the day. But what about at night? How are ADHD symptoms affecting your child’s sleep?

Researchers are looking into the links between ADHD and sleep. For now, the causes of sleep issues in kids with ADHD aren’t fully understood. But the relationship between ADHD and poor sleep is clear. Many kids and adolescents with ADHD have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning.

When kids with ADHD have trouble with sleep, here’s what it might look like:

  • Struggling to settle down at night.

  • Saying they can’t stop thinking about things when trying to get to sleep.

  • Having restlessness that disrupts sleep throughout the night.

Certain tendencies among kids with ADHD can keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Kids with ADHD can have trouble with self-regulation. That can keep them from shifting from active mode to wind-down mode at the end of the day.

  • Kids with ADHD are a more prone to nightmares, bedwetting, and sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome.

  • Kids with ADHD tend to put off doing homework or other tasks until the last minute. That can create a later, more hectic evening in your home.

  • Tweens and teens with ADHD may report feeling more productive during quiet nighttime hours. They can easily fall into the habit of staying up too late too often.

  • Many kids with ADHD also have anxiety problems . Their anxious feelings can emerge at night when there are fewer activities to distract them. This causes them to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

All of these nighttime challenges can create problems during the day. Kids who haven’t gotten enough sleep often have trouble getting started in the morning and staying alert all day. And that often leads to irritability and more inattentiveness.

It can be a hard cycle to break. But there are things you can do to help stop it — or even keep it from starting in the first place:

  • Monitor your child’s sleep schedule and routines. If your child often appears tired during the day or has a hard time settling into sleep at night, keep track of patterns of getting to sleep, sleeping, and awakening.

  • Encourage physical activity after school. Kids who don’t get enough exercise often have more difficulty getting to sleep at night.

  • Start a bedtime routine. Begin the process early in the evening. Establishing a bedtime routine can take a while, but it’s important in creating a healthy sleep cycle.

  • Be consistent. Try to make a bedtime routine that follows the same order every night. For example, bath or shower, pajamas, picking out clothes and packing the backpack for the morning, and then reading before bed.

  • Reduce stimulating activities before bedtime. This is especially true of screen time, which should be limited at night. Set limits on how late your child is allowed to text or use a computer. Encourage calming activities like reading and listening to music, and try to keep the house quiet as bedtime approaches.

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening. That includes foods that contain caffeine, such as chocolate.

  • Consider white noise or noise machines. Some kids find that it helps them tune out other sounds in the house or neighborhood.

  • Help your child plan and prioritize homework tasks. The most important tasks should get done first. Help with organizational strategies, like breaking big assignments into smaller pieces . This can help kids stay on top of work and complete it before bedtime.

  • If your child takes stimulant medication, discuss the dosage with your child’s health care provider. Ask if there are any known effects of your child’s ADHD medication on sleep. Too much medication late in the day may keep kids awake. The health care provider can fine-tune your child’s medication .

  • Mention sleep issues to the person evaluating your child. If you’re having your child evaluated for ADHD, be sure to discuss your child’s sleep habits with the person doing the diagnosis. Also include it in the written ADHD assessment and intervention plan.

  • Deal with chronic anxiety. If your child often struggles to get to sleep or stay asleep, ask if there’s something worrying your child . Kids can get stuck thinking about something that has happened or that might happen at school or at home. See if your child can describe the worries so you can help come up with strategies. If the problem persists, talk to your child’s health care provider.

  • Tell the doctor if your child snores a lot. Also bring up any breathing problems you’ve noticed. Even if it isn’t keeping your child awake, it can still cut down on the quality of sleep.

  • Look into relaxation training techniques. These can be useful for some kids.

  • Ask the doctor about sleep medication. Kids with chronic sleep difficulty can be prescribed safe medications to promote sleep. A sleep specialist and your child’s health care provider can help you with this.

Good sleep is important to all kids. But when kids already have attention issues, lack of sleep only compounds the challenges.

Learn how making simple changes at home can help with learning and thinking differences. And learn more about ADHD and sleep disorders .

Key Takeaways

  • Many kids with ADHD also have anxiety problems that can keep them from sleeping well.

  • Look into whether your child’s ADHD medication could be affecting sleep.

  • A bedtime routine can help create a healthy sleep cycle and prevent overtiredness.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom