Aug 21, 2008

Sleep and Your ADHD Child

50% of children with ADHD experience sleep problems.

My ADHD son often has trouble falling asleep at night. He says his brain just "won't turn off." Even if he's had an especially busy he still has difficulty. We have found several things to help him settle down at night.

  • Settle Down Routine -- About an hour before his bedtime, we begin his "settle down" routine. This is includes a nice warm shower, reading a book or two, and talking about his day.
  • Consistency -- We use our settle down routine throughout the year... during school, summer, on vacations, etc . This consistency provides him with a predictable routine.
  • Music -- He likes to listen to instrumental music or his CD of ocean sounds (waves, dolphins, etc.) when he goes to bed. This seems to calm him and enables him to focus on the music/sounds rather than the thoughts that are swirling around in his mind.
  • Complete darkness -- He prefers total darkness. We close his blinds and curtains to block out the street lights. He does not use a night light. He prefers total darkness. This seems to help cue his brain that it's time to go to sleep.
  • Homework schedule -- We have established a specific homework time (5:00 p.m. - finished). This assures that all homework is completed well before bedtime. This eliminates doing last minute work or worrying about the next day's test/assignment.
  • Laying out clothes -- He lays out his clothes the night before. By doing this it gives him one less thing to worry about when he is trying to go to sleep.

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  1. This is true for ADHD adults, as well. I have ADHD and I teach high school. I put myself into a settle down routine during the school year and it really helps. Starting an hour before I want to go to bed, I get in bed and listen to an episode of "This American Life" on my IPod, which is sort of like bedtime stories for grown-ups. Then I get up to hit the bathroom one more time, because I can't sleep if I have to pee even a little bit, adjust the thermostat so it is nice and cool, and make sure all the lights in the hallway outside my bedroom are off. Even a tiny bit of light coming under the crack below the door can keep me awake, even when my eyes are closed and I can't see it. Everything in my bedroom has to be just so or else I won't be able to fall asleep. I have a fan that I use for white noise and a breeze that has to point toward me at just the right angle so that it hits my face but doesn't blow my hair into my face too much. I am so dependent on this fan to get to sleep and to stay asleep that I will wake up if there is a storm that knocks the power out because the fan shuts off. I also have to be positioned exactly right in the bed, with all my pillows just so, and the door to the room must be closed completely. I, too, have to have everything prepped and ready to go for the morning before I can shut my mind off and also because I like to sleep until the last possible minute in the mornings, getting up and on the road within 10-15 minutes after getting out of bed. Many nights I'll realize I forgot something right before I'm about to fall asleep. If I don't get up to address it right away, I'll be awake for at least another hour thinking about it. And, even with all that, it's still hard to shut my mind down and actually fall asleep. Unless I'm just completely exhausted, I cannot just fall asleep; it always takes at least a half hour. The biggest paradox to all this is that it will be many times harder to fall asleep if I know that I have to get up at a certain time than if I know I can sleep as long as I like. When I was in college, I substitute taught part time. Some nights, if I knew I had to work the next day, I would not be able to fall asleep for the life of me, so in the middle of the night I would call the automated sub. line and cancel the job, knowing the system would just call another sub. in the morning to schedule them instead. After that I would fall right asleep with no problem. I also cannot get to sleep when other people are in the room, even if they aren't making noise because the thought of them possibly making noise will keep me up. This made family vacations that included hotel stays a nightmare for me when I was a kid, something parents of ADHD children should consider when planning trips. A child who is tired and cranky because they haven't been able to sleep will not be fun for the whole family. It is also something that took my husband a long time to understand, but, after 8 years, he's come to terms with the fact that I will never fall asleep spooning him and that we will always have separate bedrooms. Anyway, the transitions from wake to sleep and sleep to wake are incredibly hard to deal with for a lot of ADHD people. Thanks for highlighting this fact.

  2. The problem doesn't go away in adulthood either. Something I would add to your list is for those times when it is just way to hard to go sleep because of distractions turn on a fan. The old box kind of fan placed near the bedroom door works well as it provides white noise. My mom used to place a small desktop size fan near my bed but it doesn't work as well.

    Many people with ADHD are also TK (tactile-kinistic learners)and this adds another factor to bedtime -- the way things feel and smell. I have lavender-vanilla linen spray, lotion and bath gel calming. Also, "fuzzy" blankets can be calming as well.

  3. My husband, who is not ADHD, has used a fan beside our bed since we were married 17 years ago! It took some getting used to on my part, but I did. He has an extremely difficult time going to sleep without it. He listens to the humming of the motor and it's off to dream land.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love comments and feedback!