Sleep Tools for ADHD

November 9, 2011

From One Exhausted Mom to Another:

If your house is anything like mine a good night’s  sleep is  often elusive.  It’s not just my energetic son, who somehow never seems to tire, that could use a few more hours sleep a night.  It’s also his exhausted parents who get even less sleep than he does.  His bedtime battles, nighttime awakenings, and morning sleep-ins are enough to make any parent want to throw in the towel.  But we are clearly not alone.  Research has shown that 20% of children with ADHD have trouble falling asleep.  That is three times the rate of children without ADHD.  But that is not the most bothersome statistic.  According to a study from England involving 100 parents of children with ADHD, 57% receive less than six hours of sleep and 27% get less than five hours.  More than half of those said children get up more than four times during the night and 42% of them wake up before 6:00 AM.  Lack of sleep is clearly an international phenomenon when it comes to kids with ADHD and their parents.  It’s no mystery that sleep is so evasive to our children.  Many of the same regions of the brain that control attention also regulate sleep.    So how do we help our children get the shut-eye that we all so desperately crave?  As a desperately exhausted parent I have done my research and I am proud to say that I have made some substantial changes to my son’s bedtime routines that have made a big impact on our nighttime schedule.  Here are some things that I have learned:

  1.  Your child’s day should be full of exercise which helps the body make the transition between phases of sleep and places physical stress on the body which will ultimately increase the amount of time the body will spend in the deep sleep phase.
  2. Try to avoid sugary snacks before bedtime.  A pre-bedtime snack should consist of warm milk and some saltines, or perhaps some turkey  which contains the natural sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan.
  3.  It’s important to point out that most sleeping pills have not been adequately tested for their safety and effectiveness in children.  This is true of both over the counter drugs like melatonin as well as prescription drugs.  Medications should only be used after careful consultation with your pediatrician.
  4.  Bedtime routines allow fearful children to feel secure and signal the brain to slow down.  Read a bedtime story or allow an older child to read in bed.  Give younger children and blanket or a doll to cuddle with.
  5. There are relaxation techniques that you can do to help your child fall asleep.  You can give her a foot rub by making a fist with your hand, having her lie on her back and rubbing her foot gently up and down.  Deep breathing exercises are great relaxation techniques.  Have your child picture an elevator going up and down as he inhales and exhales.
  6.  6.The hour prior to bedtime should be devoted to relaxing things like reading and listening to music as opposed to playing video games or even pillow fights.
  7.  The bedroom should be completely dark.  All visual distractions should be eliminated.  If your child is fearful of  the dark a dim nightlight should be used.
  8.  Background music or white noise is sometimes helpful in quieting down the mind and drifting one off to sleep…

Mom’s Take:

Bedtime doesn’t have mean battle time in your home anymore. If done right it could actually turn into one of your favorite times of the day.  It just has to be eased into and planned well.  Things need to start quieting down an hour prior to bedtime.  That’s when televisions and computers screens need to be shut down for the night.  You might encounter resistance to that idea at first, but it’s well worth the battle.  Bedtime has become so much easier since we have instituted some of the above ideas.  My son has started  falling asleep faster and he’s even managed to sleep through the night.  Now if only I could learn how to do the same…