Helping Kids with ADHD get more ZZZZ’s

If your son or daughter has trouble going to sleep, you are not alone. There are several issues that complicate going to sleep for kids with ADHD. Some kids are sensitive to the medication they take and it can negatively impact their ability to drift into slumber. If they take a booster after-school to help with doing homework, this can be especially true. Perhaps your child is not be that physically tired. Vigorous, regular exercise could help them nod off more easily. Many kids today (those with and without ADHD) also tend to spend too much time on their screens too close to bedtime. Most physicians (and many sleep studies) recommend turning off screens at least one hour prior to bed. If you have an teen in your midst, the onset of adolescence and its hormonal and psychological changes can further prevent getting some good shut-eye.  

Here are a few steps that you can take to help your child or teen get a good night’s rest:

Start with making an appointment with whoever prescribes his medication. It’s very important that they know what is going on so they can make any appropriate changes or suggestions about his sleep challenges.

Reflect on your family’s evening routine. Is there adequate time built-in for chilling out before turning off the light? What have you (or your partner) observed that has helped your son or daughter in the past? Jot down these ideas.

In a calm moment, perhaps after dinner, talk with your child or teen about the issue of going to sleep. The goal is to collaborate on sleep solutions, not get into a blame game or an argument. If you find yourself getting agitated or they starts to become defensive, pause and take some deep breaths together. Begin by asking about falling asleep. Is he tired? Is she frustrated? What would they like to see that’s different from what’s going on now? Talk about why you also want a better routine. 

Discuss the skill of self-regulation–the ability for kids with ADHD to manage themselves–and how it relates to sleep challenges. What do they notice on those nights when sleep comes easily? What is or isn’t happening at those times compared to the nights when it’s tougher? Review the nightly routine and share your observations too. Should you replace pre-sleep stimulation like playing computer games, using social media or surfing the net with quieter brain activities? If they report worrying a lot before bed, consider seeking counseling.

Brainstorm ways to create a routine that integrates what has helped them in the past with what could be useful now. Just like you’ve developed ways to get yourself to sleep, your child or teen needs to learn this same skill. Set up a new plan for the hour before bed. Listening to music, riding a stationary bike, watching a regular TV show or working on a big puzzle or fun project with a parent can all be good  substitutions for computer games and social media time. Once they are under the covers, if they are willing to read anything–the sports page, a graphic novel or a mystery, establish an endpoint for that. If reading is not an option,  maybe listening aloud to a podcast, an audio book, a relaxation exercise or quiet music could work. Be clear and specific.

The time before sleep is often when kids want to chat about their lives. They seem more open to confide in you and ask for your advice. Prop your own eyelids open and to sit down for a few minutes. The connection will be worth it!