Bedtime Nightmares: 5 tips to reduce the stress

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

It’s a typical night for a family with an ADHD child. You plan to have your child in bed by 8:00, but when 8:00 comes around so soon, you wonder where the evening has gone. Your child is bouncing off the walls, or zoned out in front of the TV, and you have a million things to do before bedtime. You call out to them from the other room, telling them to stop what they’re doing and get ready for bed. But when you go to check on her 15 minutes later, she hasn’t made any progress! Feeling frustrated, you hover, you nag, and you do things for her that you think she should be able to do on her own. When she’s finally in bed, she’s complaining that she’s not tired and can’t sleep, and you’re both irritated. Yet again, you’re ending the day on a sour note. Sound familiar?

 Bedtime can be challenging, especially when your child has ADHD. Try these tips to break the bad bedtime cycle:

  1. Have a set time each night for when your child starts getting ready for bed, and stick to it. Leave enough time to get everything done (teeth brushed, tomorrow’s clothes picked out, etc.) that they will be done in time for bedtime.
  2. Turn off all of the screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue-light that emits from LED screens disrupts sleep. Especially for kids!
  3. When you tell your child to get ready for bed, get their attention first, then tell them to get ready for bed. That way, you know they’ve heard you. Then stay with them until they’ve started to get ready for bed. (Don’t walk away when you tell a child to go to bed. You’ll come back in 15 minutes to find nothing has happened.) Staying focused and staying with them lets them know that you mean business.
  4. Create a list with the steps of your child’s bedtime routine, and post it up in a place where your child can check it every night. They may need you to supervise them, or provide a couple of reminders when they are first starting to use their new checklist.
  5. Provide a lot of specific praise when your child follows through, “I really like how you looked at the checklist and then started to brush your teeth right away!” If they need some extra motivation, provide a reward when they complete all of their bedtime routine steps. For example, if they finish their steps by 8:20, then you’ll read a book together for 10 minutes.



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.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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