As the clock ticks away and evening arrives, parents around the world put their children to bed in the hopes that they can fall asleep quickly. That is exactly what happens for the majority of parents. However, for some children, especially those with ADHD, sleep is difficult to come by, and evenings are a struggle.
Children with ADHD are significantly more likely than other children to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. If you were to ask “how common is it for children with ADHD to have sleep problems”, more likely up to 70% of children with ADHD suffer from lack of sleep. But, what exactly is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurological condition that affects the parts of the brain that help us prepare, concentrate, and execute tasks. In children and adults, ADHD symptoms differ by subtype (inattentive, hyperactive, or combined) and are often more difficult to diagnose.
ADHD is a developmental disorder that affects the executive functions of the brain. Impulse regulation, focusing, and organization are all things that we take for granted, but for people with ADHD, they are . We can learn a few things from neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research: ADHD is not a behavioral disorder, a mental condition, or a distinct type of learning disorder. Instead, ADHD is a developmental disorder of the brain’s self-control system. It can be diagnosed in both adults and infants.
Many patients and physicians compare ADHD to an iceberg, where the majority of signs are hidden under the sea, out of sight but still present. You can get a formal diagnosis if you suspect your loved one has ADHD.
People with ADHD are more likely to have shorter sleep times, have trouble falling and staying asleep, and a higher chance of developing a sleep disorder starting during puberty. Nightmares are common in children with ADHD, especially those who suffer from insomnia. While sleep problems in early childhood are a risk factor for potential incidence of ADHD symptoms, they appear to increase with age in people with ADHD.
Even people who aren’t hyperactive during the day can have racing thoughts and a burst of energy at night, which can make it difficult to sleep. Since there are less distractions at night, some people find it easier to “hyper focus” on a project. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to fall asleep and can lead to a sleep-wake cycle that is interrupted. Insomnia can worsen over time as people develop stress-related emotions around bedtime.
As a result of insufficient sleep, many people with ADHD experience daytime sleepiness and trouble waking up. Others have restless, non-refreshing sleep, as well as frequent nighttime awakenings.
Sleep issues in people with ADHD tend to vary based on the form of ADHD they have. Individuals with primarily inattentive symptoms are more likely to sleep later, and those with primarily hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are more likely to experience insomnia. Many with ADHD who have both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms have low sleep quality and go to bed later.
The connection between ADHD and sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is undeniable. Many children and adults with ADHD struggle with the following issues:
Getting out of bed in the morning: Staying up late makes it more difficult to get out of bed in the morning. It can be difficult to break this habit, particularly for people with ADHD who are more productive at night.
Staying asleep: Nightmares, bedwetting, and sleep disturbances such as restless leg syndrome are more common in children with ADHD.
Falling asleep: For people with ADHD, falling asleep at night can be difficult. When they’re trying to sleep, they sometimes “can’t stop thinking.”
Despite the lack of studies on ADHD and sleep disorders, children and adults with ADHD and a sleep disorder often experience more serious ADHD symptoms and a poorer quality of life. They may also have a higher BMI and be more prone to depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, inattention, and difficulty processing information. Chronic sleep deprivation makes people vulnerable to physical health issues in the long run.
Sleepiness during the day may have a negative impact on school and work. People can criticize a person with ADHD for sleeping at odd hours, not understanding that this is a common symptom of the disorder and difficult to avoid. Sudden drowsiness can be dangerous while driving or doing other tasks that require focus and attention.
Daytime exhaustion may result from poor nighttime sleep. People with ADHD who don’t get enough sleep may become grumpy, irritable, anxious, or exhausted, and they may struggle to pay attention at school or at work. These signs are often misdiagnosed as a mood disorder, when in fact, anxiety and behavioral disorders have been attributed to a higher frequency of sleep problems in children with ADHD.
Why are children with ADHD more prone to sleeping issues?
Children with ADHD are more likely to develop other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, all of which are linked to sleeping difficulties. While certain ADHD medications can cause insomnia, children with ADHD who do not take any medication still have more sleep issues than children who do not have ADHD.
A connection between ADHD and the CLOCK gene has been discovered. Our circadian rhythm, which tells us when to sleep, wake up, and eat, is regulated by the CLOCK gene. According to research, children with ADHD are more likely to have circadian rhythm disruptions, making it difficult for them to fall asleep at the desired bedtime.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to it, so patience and determination are needed to get through this together with your child. So, here are some tips on how to help ADHD toddler sleep.
- Have a schedule:
Decide on a nighttime schedule for your child ahead of time, including when to bathe, eat, brush teeth, read, and so on. Remember that children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, need more routine and predictability than other children. Make sure the hour leading up to bedtime is calm and quiet, with low lighting, so the body can generate enough melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.
- Wake-Up alarm. It’s usually easier to get a child out of bed than it is to get them to sleep. Maintain a consistent wake-up time for your child every day, even weekends, so that their bodies become used to the same sleep hours and a body clock is established.
- Bedtime alarm. Try setting a bedtime alarm in the same way you set a waking alarm so kids equate their bedtime with a clock or timer rather than feeling like sleep is a parental demand. Make sure the alarm’s tone is silent and unfussy. Your child will eventually learn to identify the sound of the bedtime alarm with tiredness. Make sure your child’s bedtime is conducive to healthy sleep. Now its very important to know how many hours of sleep they need based on their age:
- Infant – 12-16 hours
- Toddlers – 11-14 hours
- Preschooler – 10-13 hours
- Grade schooler – 9-12 hours
- Teens – 8-10 hours
Start counting backwards from their wake-up time. Some children cope well with less than the average amount of sleep and can fall asleep faster with a later bedtime.
- White noise and black curtains. Hearing is also highly sensitive in children with sensory problems. To block out noise from the neighborhood or the home, white noise or nature sounds are important. For white noise, use an air purifier or a fan, or download an app with various nature sounds. It’s possible that you’ll have to try a few different sounds before you find one that works for your kids. Moreover, use dark or black curtains to keep the room dark. Too much light before bedtime will disrupt the development of melatonin in the body.
- Screen time. The blue light from computer monitors, tablets, and phones will trick your child’s brain into believing it’s time to wake up. Limit your child’s screen time to earlier in the day, and fill the hours after dinner with things like board games, reading, or quiet play.
- Daily exercise and monitoring your diet. Make fitness and wellness a top priority for your family. Every day, children should engage in at least one hour of physical activity. Exercise will not only help children stay physically fit, but it will also help them sleep better at night by tiring them. Furthermore, instill good eating habits in your family by avoiding caffeine and artificial additives that may cause hyperactivity. What your child eats (or drinks) and when they eat (or drink) may have an impact on their sleep schedule. It can be difficult to fall asleep if your stomach is too full or empty before bedtime. Caffeine-laced snacks and beverages are also a possibility. Consider nutritional testing to see whether your child has any dietary or digestive disorders, such as food sensitivities or vitamin, mineral, or amino acid shortages, which can intensify anxiety and sleep issues.
- Calm and relaxation. Some children can benefit from brain and body calming techniques. Two techniques for calming a speeding mind and jittery limbs are breathing exercises and guided imagery. You can opt for essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or vanilla can be soothing to many people who have trouble sleeping. Allow your child to pick a soothing fragrance that he or she enjoys, then dab a small amount of oil on a cotton ball and stuff it into his or her pillowcase.
- Attend and observe anxiety. Anxious children, like anxious adults, often have too much on their minds to sleep. Anxiety disorders affect about a quarter of children with ADHD. This can make a child’s mind race and keep them from falling asleep. Consult your child’s doctor to see if this is a contributing factor to their sleep issues. Other treatments or tactics may be suggested.
- Take into account melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by your brain at a certain time of day to signal to your body that it is time to sleep. If your child with a neurodevelopmental condition (ADHD) is still not getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor about taking melatonin supplements. It’s possible that your child isn’t generating enough melatonin to fall and remain asleep naturally. Since melatonin dosage varies by age and height, talk to your doctor about whether supplemental melatonin is right for your kid.
- Adjust medications. Sleep disturbances are a common side effect of ADHD medications (which are stimulants). Ask your child’s doctor about adjusting the dosage, the timing, or the type of medicine they’re taking to ensure they can relax before bedtime. There are non-stimulant options for your child’s ADHD that may be effective. It may take a few tries to find the right combination for concentrating during the day and sleeping at night.
- Weighted blanket. A weighted blanket will help you sleep better. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD frequently crave deep pressure and have impaired motor control, or the inability to recognize where their bodies are in space. A thick, weighted blanket will help control a disorganized sense of self and relax an overactive central nervous system by applying deep pressure to muscles and joints during the night. The body’s innate ability to fall asleep can be aided by organizing and relaxing the senses.
Avoid blaming your child. Most children want to fall asleep easily but can’t. You can help your child and yourself deal with this challenge. It is important that your child gets enough sleep and sleeps soundly. If your child still has a persistent sleep problem, you should consult with his or her doctor or a sleep specialist.
Do people with ADHD need more sleep?
Teenagers with ADHD symptoms are more likely to have sleep problems in general. However, they still get less sleep than they need, despite the fact that they know they need more sleep.
Does lack of sleep make ADHD worse?
A stimulant medicine is the root of the problem for some people. Anxiety, depression, and other symptoms associated with ADHD are to blame for some. You aren’t just exhausted because you don’t get enough sleep. It may also escalate symptoms such as a lack of attention and motor ability issues.
What do I do if I need further help with my child’s sleep?
It’s best to contact your GP or a pediatrician if you need assistance with your child’s sleep. Some children may need a sleep specialist.