How ADHD Affects Kids’ Sleep—and What You Can Do

You can see how your child’s issues with attention, self-control and executive functioning impact his activities during the day. But what about at night? How are his symptoms of ADHD affecting his sleep?

Researchers are looking into the links between ADHD and sleep. For now, the causes of sleep issues in kids with ADHD aren’t fully understood. But the relationship between ADHD and poor sleep is clear. Many kids and adolescents with ADHD have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning.

If your child with ADHD is having trouble with sleep, here are some things you may be seeing:

  • He has trouble settling down at night.

  • Even after he’s in bed, he says he can’t stop thinking about things when he’s trying to get to sleep.

  • Throughout the night, he experiences restlessness. It disrupts his sleep or wakes him up

Certain tendencies among kids with ADHD can keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Kids with ADHD can have trouble with self-regulation. That can keep them from shifting from active mode to wind-down mode at the end of the day.

  • Kids with ADHD are a more prone to nightmares, bedwetting and sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome.

  • Kids with ADHD tend to put off doing homework or other tasks until the last minute. That can create a later, more hectic evening in your home.

  • Tweens and teens with ADHD may report feeling more productive during quiet nighttime hours. They can easily fall into the habit of staying up too late too often.

  • Many kids with ADHD also have anxiety problems. Their anxious feelings can emerge at night when there are fewer activities to distract them. This causes them to have trouble falling or staying asleep.

All of these nighttime challenges can create problems during day. They understandably can lead to sleepiness in the morning and trouble getting started and staying alert all day. And that often leads to irritability and more inattentiveness.

It can be a hard cycle to break. But there are things you can do to help stop it—or even keep it from starting in the first place:

  • Monitor your child’s sleep schedule and routines. If he often appears tired during the day or has a hard time settling into sleep at night, keep track of his patterns of getting to sleep, sleeping and awakening.

  • Encourage physical activity after school. Kids and teens who don’t get enough exercise often have more difficulty getting to sleep at night.

  • Start a bedtime routine. Begin the process early in the evening. Establishing a bedtime routine can take a while, but it’s important in creating a healthy sleep cycle.

  • Be consistent. Try to make a bedtime routine that follows the same order every night. For example, bath time or shower, pajamas, picking out clothes and packing his backpack for the morning, and then reading before bed.

  • Reduce stimulating activities before bedtime. This is especially true of screen time, which should be limited at night. Set limits on how late your child is allowed to text or use a computer. Encourage calming activities like reading and listening to music, and try to keep the house quiet as bedtime approaches.

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening. That includes foods that contain caffeine, such as chocolate.

  • Consider white noise or noise machines. Some kids find that it helps them tune out other sounds in the house or neighborhood.

  • Help your child plan and prioritize homework tasks. More important tasks should get done first. Help him with organisational strategies. Using checklists for homework and studying can help him stay on top of his work. Hopefully that will help him complete it before bedtime.

  • Ask about your child’s stimulant medication. Talk to your child’s doctor about the effects of ADHD medication on sleep. Too much medication late in the day may keep your child awake too long. Your child may need to have his medication fine-tuned.

  • Mention sleep issues to the person who’s evaluating your child.If you’re having your child evaluated for ADHD, be sure to discuss your child’s sleep habits with the person who’s diagnosing him. Also include it the written ADHD assessment and intervention plan.

  • Deal with chronic anxiety. If your child often struggles to get to sleep or stay asleep, ask him if he’s up worrying about things. He may be stuck thinking about something that has happened or might happen at school or at home. See if he can describe the worries so you can help him deal with them. If the problem persists, talk to your child’s doctor.

  • Tell the doctor if your child snores a lot during sleep. Also bring up any breathing problems you’ve noticed. These can cut down on the quality of your child’s sleep, even if they don’t keep him awake.

  • Look into relaxation training techniques. These can be useful for some kids.

  • Ask the doctor about sleep medication. Kids with chronic sleep difficulty can be prescribed safe medications to promote sleep. A sleep specialist and your child’s doctor can help you with this.

Good sleep is important to all kids. But when kids already have attention issues, lack of sleep only compounds the challenges. It’s important to observe your child and take notes on how he functions during the day—and how he sleeps at night.

Learn how making simple changes at home can help with learning and thinking differences. And learn more about ADHD and sleep disorders.

By Laura Tagliareni, PhD


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