10 Sleep Tips for ADHD Kids
February 21, 2020
About a year ago I shared our journey and our struggle with Harper and his ADHD diagnosis on my Instagram feed. It amazes me that I still get DMs from parents looking for help or sharing advice, and I’m always learning something new myself. I think every parent struggles with wanting to help their child but having no idea where to start.
One of the biggest struggles with Harper’s ADHD is sleep. Research shows that approximately 75 percent of adults and children with ADHD have problems sleeping. One study even found that these sleeping problems (usually forms of insomnia) are based in delayed body function, like the lowering of core body temperature and the release of melatonin.
In addition to the scientific reasons behind this, there’s also a link between poor sleep, ADHD, and anxiety. Around 30 percent of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. At night, those anxious feelings can emerge when there are fewer activities to distract their brains, which can exacerbate any existing sleep issues.
All of these complications combined can have a detrimental effect on kids with ADHD as they function the next day throughout their normal routine. Getting an inadequate amount of sleep can seriously impact a kid’s day at school, with fewer hours of sleep associated with increased distraction, decreased performance, and hyperactivity. Yep, you read that right, poor sleep can emphasize the symptoms of ADHD. Even moderate sleep gains of 30 additional minutes can lead to improved alertness and better behavior in school-aged children!
We want to help give Harper the best chance for success possible, and we’ve struggled for a while finding a sleep routine that works for us, but for the past year or so, he’s been doing a lot better! I wanted to share what has helped us in the hopes that you can benefit from our trial and error.
Sleep Tips for ADHD
1. Exercise Daily
We all know that exercise is good for us, and some of you may have heard that daily exercise improves sleep quality. This is even more true for children with ADHD! Even just half an hour a day of vigorous activity can improve overall function throughout the day. Exercise can also help decrease anxiety. For us, daily exercise can mean anything from gym class at school to letting Harper run around in the back yard with Folly to a family bike ride on a nice day. Find what works for your family!
2. Stick to a Schedule
Kids with ADHD need routine and predictability more so than kids without. Telling Harper well in advance what the plans or activities for the day are can help him have enough time to prepare and reduce anxiety about the future. Include bedtime routines in the schedule so they know what’s expected. Once you set your schedule, sticking to the routine is important! Last-minute changes or a sudden diversion from the norm can seriously throw off your kids and leave them uncertain about what’s next.
3. Set a Bedtime Alarm
When you create your bedtime schedule, set an alarm that goes off when it’s time for bed. We set an alarm for Harper that he can hear and it helps him associate his bedtime with a clock or timer instead of feeling like sleep is a parental demand. It also helps us share responsibility for bedtime!
4. Remove Sources of Stimulation
An hour before bed, we turn off the television, take away anything with a screen, and we don’t allow any rough play. This is the time we really start to unwind. It helps quiet Harper’s mind and get him ready to go to sleep, instead of going from constant stimulation to nothing.
5. Diffuse Serenity Essential Oils
The Serenity Restful Blend from doTERRA has been a serious lifesaver. We start diffusing the essential oil 30 minutes before Harper goes down to sleep and run it throughout the night. We found this diffuser that holds enough water that it’ll run for that long, and boy do we need it! If the diffuser stops in the middle of the night, Harper will wake up. Something about the blend of scents like lavender, cedarwood, and vetiver create a totally peaceful environment that Harper really enjoys.
6. Use a White Noise Machine
White noise is, at its most basic form, the constant sound kind of like a fan or rumbling, that has been shown to help with sleep quality. White noise can block out other disruptive sounds that may wake a light sleeper and its consistent sound can lull you to sleep. While some upgraded white noise machines can produce sound loops of rainstorms, waves, or a babbling brook, Harper didn’t really like those. We found a natural white noise machine that just sounds like a fan and really works for us!
7. Give Kid’s Melatonin Supplements
Melatonin is a non-habit forming hormone the brain naturally produces, but if your child’s ADHD is delaying the release of melatonin, it can be harder for them to fall asleep. These gummy supplements are safe for kids 3 years old and up and help promote peaceful sleep. Harper likes taking them in gummy form and we’ve noticed they’ve really helped him go to sleep easier.
8. Use a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets are all the rage these days for adults, but they can work wonders for children with ADHD. The weight of the blankets can provide a soothing effect on children, helping them to self-soothe and calming an overactive nervous system. Weighted blankets come in a range of weights and fabrics, and what your child may like may be totally different from another kid of their size or diagnosis, so it may take some experimentation! You can use the weighted blanket for 30 minutes or an hour before bed, or if your child is strong enough to move freely under the blanket, the blanket can be used throughout the night. If you have concerns, definitely check with your pediatrician!
9. Add Blackout Curtains
Depending on the time of year and your kid’s bedtime and sleep schedule, it may not always be dark when they go to bed or it may get light before it’s time to wake up. We added blackout curtains in Harper’s room so that he can have total darkness when it’s time to go to bed. Darkness signals the brain that it’s time to go to sleep and can start sending out sleep signals to the rest of your body. Plus, blackout curtains come in a variety of shades and styles now, so they can suit whatever decor your room already has.
10. Filter the Air
We use the IQAir HealthPro Air Purifier in Harper’s room. With a long-haired dog, there’s always hair and dander floating around in the air, which can have a serious impact on the air quality. Harper is particularly sensitive to this, so we use the air filter in his room to make sure the air is the best it can be when he goes to sleep. We can SERIOUSLY tell the difference when we walk in his room; the air is so much better.
With these 10 tips, we feel like Harper’s sleep has totally improved. He goes to sleep easier and stays asleep longer. Now don’t get me wrong, we will still have the occasional 3 a.m. wake-up call for no apparent reason, but that’s once a month now instead of 3 times per week.
ADHD is complicated. It’s not just about being “hyper” or not listening. It comes with a whole host of other struggles that make life for us and for Harper a lot more challenging. Sleep is just one part of that equation.
I’ve had a lot of parents of children with ADHD reach out to me for help and guidance, and while I hope these tips offer practical suggestions, my number one piece of advice will always be to find your child’s strengths and celebrate them every single day.
I am so grateful I was entrusted to the care for this beautiful, complicated, extraordinary soul. This kid thinks differently—and that’s valuable. He’s loyal, almost to a fault. He is honest and authentic, and he doesn’t judge other people. Harper is freaking hysterical, his view of life, combined with the fact that he has no hesitation pointing out anything he notices, often makes me laugh until I’m in tears.
Most importantly, he has tremendous empathy. And unlike many people, he shows it all the time. When I am sick, Harper’s only concern is making me feel better. When I cry, he does everything in his power to make me smile. He compliments no less than 5 strangers every single day. He starts conversations with random people everywhere we go. I am so proud of the kid and I tell him how incredible he is each and every day.