ADHD in Children: Sleep Problems and What You Can Do About It

ADHD in Children: Sleep Problems and What You Can Do About ItDo you have a child, diagnosed with ADHD, who is having sleep difficulties in addition to his or her other symptoms?  Would it be helpful to better understand these problems so you could possibly help your child overcome them?  Children who struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are far more likely to have sleep difficulties than non-affected children in their age group, but with a little information it is possible for parents to help mitigate these problems substantially.  In this article we will discuss the various types of sleep difficulties in ADHD children, along with the rationale behind those problems and how parents can help their child overcome them.

About ADHD in Children and Sleep

ADHD is a very common neurological disorder that affects approximately 7%-11% of all school-age children.  The disorder is characterized by three main symptoms, hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, although not every symptom will be present in all ADHD cases.

The excess energy in children affected with ADHD, as well as the anxiety and depression that can often accompany this disorder, can often lead to sleep difficulties, including trouble with falling asleep and a difficult time staying asleep.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can not only worsen ADHD symptoms in affected children, but can also bring about ADHD-related symptoms in normal children, including attention problems, the tendency to act or think impulsively and hyperactivity.  In other words, sleep difficulties are really a “double-edged sword”—worsening ADHD related behavior in those diagnosed with the disorder, and in some instances, causing ADHD-related symptoms.

A few of the sleep difficulties that can lead to ADHD symptoms include:

  • A hard time relaxing in order to fall asleep
  • Restless legs syndrome or jerking in the lower extremities
  • Waking up in the middle of the night
  • Bed wetting

Any of these difficulties can lead to an inadequate night’s sleep, producing many of the more common ADHD symptoms that can often lead to poor school performance and the behavior problems often resulting in school discipline.

How Parents Can Help with ADHD-Related Sleep Difficulties

Parents can play a major role in helping ADHD children overcome some of their sleep barriers.  Some of the things parents can do include:

  • Ensure Plenty of Exercise.  ADHD in children, especially in school-age boys, causes hyperactivity that can inhibit sleep.  Because of this, those children need plenty of physical exercise to help burn off some of that pent up energy, especially during the school year when children spend 6-7 hours each day sitting in a classroom with no physical activity to speak of.  Parents of ADHD children would be wise to turn off the television and the video games, and instead encourage their children to play outside.  Parents can even organize structured physical activities that can serve as a release in preparation of a good night’s sleep.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques.  Playing tranquil music, performing meditation and other relaxation techniques can be very beneficial in inducing sleep before bedtime.  Children with ADHD sometimes need time to just unwind in a quiet room, with no television or other distractions.  This will help their minds to relax so that troubling thoughts do not keep them awake at night. For more suggestions on relaxation techniques and how to perform them, parents should seek advice from their doctor or the mental health professional that is treating the ADHD-affected child.

Sleep problems in children with ADHD can be a major obstacle to academic performance and optimal, problem-free behavior, but with adequate exercise and plenty of opportunities for quiet relaxation, many of these problems can be successfully reduced or even eliminated.