“I can’t sleeeeepppp.” We’ve all heard it. The complaining, whining or protesting of a child seemingly unable to fall asleep. According to a recent study conducted by British researchers, kids with ADHD are four times less likely to fall asleep quickly and stay in bed all night. And while a lack of sleep affects all children, its effects can be particularly hard on children with ADHD. There’s a great deal of available research related to why kids with ADHD may struggle with sleep (read more from a post I did last year on this topic), but while the science can be interesting, most parents just want to know the answer to a single question: What can I do to help my child sleep better?
Here are six quick tips for troubleshooting your child’s sleep issues:
Empathize with your child. It can be frustrating for you as a parent when your child doesn’t fall asleep, but it’s important to remember that it’s frustrating for your child as well. Start off by letting your child know that you realize falling asleep isn’t easy for him or her. Ask what it feels like when he or she can’t fall asleep and explain that you’re going to be trying some new strategies to help him or her sleep better.
Get Enough Exercise. It’s tough to sleep if you’re feeling mentally or physically restless from not having had enough stimulation and engagement during the day. Begin by making sure your child is getting enough exercise, fresh air, and all around social, emotional, physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. Your grandmother was right: a kid who plays all day, sleeps all night!
Nix the Caffeine. You know for yourself that a cup of coffee late in the day may keep you up at night. Same is true for your child. But his or her caffeine may be coming from soda, chocolate, protein bars, ice cream and water products like Vitamin Water. Read the labels and work hard to eliminate any caffeine at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Have a Consistent Bed Time and Wake Time. Children sleep better when they have a consistent sleep schedule. It may be tempting to let your child stay up later on Friday nights or sleep in on the weekends, but ultimately that makes it harder to fall asleep and wake up on other days of the week.
Have A Wind Down Period. Thirty minutes before bedtime, have a wind down period where videogames, tablets, and the TV are turned off, the lights are dimmed, and the volume on any music is turned down. This will help your child mentally prepare for bed.
Consider Relaxation Techniques. Many kids are starting to learn about mindfulness in school, and there are some great tools out there to help kids learn meditation, relaxation and breathing/calming techniques that they can use at home. Building one or more of these into your child’s bedroom routine may help him or her fall asleep faster and more consistently. PBS provides some helpful instructions on calming breathing exercises (http://www.pbs.org/parents/adventures-in-learning/2015/09/calming-breathing-exercise-for-kids/). For teens, AnxietyBC has a “How to Chill” webpage with a variety of relaxation exercises that can be used anytime and anywhere (http://youth.anxietybc.com/relaxation).
Make sure the bedroom is set up for sleep success. Check the temperature: researchers believe the ideal sleep temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees. Check the noise level: can your child hear the street, the TV from downstairs, or his or her sister’s radio next door? Consider a white noise machine if you can’t effectively quiet the space. Check the light. Make sure the room is as dark as possible, and cover up any small lights on electronic devices that may be distracting.
Each of these tips can go a long way in helping your child get better sleep. If you continue to try different strategies, and the sleep challenges continue, talk to your child’s pediatrician or seek the help of a pediatric sleep specialist.
ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.