ADHD often means having a restless mind during the day, when it's time to concentrate - and at night, when it's time to rest. A multi-faceted approach will help your ADHD child get the rest they need to perform well academically.
Picture it: You've just wrapped up another busy night with your ADHD child. Helping with homework was a chore, as their attention strayed with every background noise in the house. Now you're coming upstairs to get yourself ready for bed. Your child's bedtime was two hours ago…and you just saw their bedroom light on. You find yourself getting madder and madder. You're having flashbacks to your last parent-teacher meeting, in which your child's teacher yet again suggested an earlier bedtime.
Lately, your child's daytime sleepiness has been making their usual issues with classroom concentration even worse. Their grades have been slipping. More often than not, mornings have been a nightmare. You don't want this to end in another argument. But bedtime is a touchy subject - and you both get overloaded with frustrations when you try to discuss it calmly.
Take a deep breath, and get ready to make a long-term change for the better: Try these suggestions to partner with your ADHD child - so you can both have a restful night, every night.
Behind the Restless Nights: Anatomy of ADHD Wakefulness
Distractibility and hyperactivity don't end when the sun goes down. The difficulties your ADHD child has with regulating attention don't suddenly stop when bedtime approaches. Throughout the day and night, your child's ADHD mind will continue to seek stimulation and wrestle with fluctuating focus.
Transitions and Hyperfocus
For those with ADHD, each transition means having to focus on something new. It means scrambling to readjust attention levels. The transition from wakefulness to sleep can be especially challenging if your child has been hyperfocused on a favorite leisure activity.
Hyperfocus causes your ADHD child to completely lose track of time. Hours can seem like minutes when your child is concentrating fully on a favorite task. Your instructions to stop playing that video game immediately and go straight to bed may be repeatedly ignored. The transition from stimulating activity to lights-out for bed can seem particularly jarring to your child.
Nighttime ADHD May Be More of a Challenge
After the bedtime routine of washing, brushing and flossing, there is often little structure before sleep. The ADHD mind, which already has difficulty with focus during structured activities, is free to wander - and finally free to play.
Your child spent most of the day at school, and much of the evening doing homework. Nighttime may seem like the perfect time to indulge in video games or social media. Yet these activities can cause great difficulty with winding down at night - and getting a good night's sleep to prepare for the next day at school.
Electronics and Sleep Disruption
Blue light from smartphones, televisions, computer screens and tablets stimulates the brain and depresses melatonin production. This makes it harder for your ADHD child to relax and fall asleep, even after the mobile devices have been put to bed. Even without the blue light factor, video games and social networking can get overstimulating.
A Multi-Faceted Approach to Taming Nighttime Restlessness
ADHD is complex and affects many aspects of your child's life and behavior. Several practices throughout the day can help your child get better rest.
Limiting Processed Sugar
Even without ADHD, sugar highs and subsequent crashes can leave us feeling like we're riding a derailed roller coaster. The sugars found in processed foods can magnify restlessness in your ADHD child.
For more steady energy levels, include:
- Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
- Foods that are high in fiber - such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Candy and soda pop
- Processed foods like fruit juices and doughnuts
Avoiding Excessive Caffeine
These days, it seems like caffeinated beverages are everywhere. There are colas, iced teas, energy drinks - even caffeinated water. Caffeine can be used in moderation to temporarily improve focus. This might seem helpful for your distractible ADHD child.
But timing is everything. Caffeine lingers in our bloodstreams for many hours. It can be a significant and chronic sleep disrupter. Don't offer your child caffeinated food or beverages after 12 p.m. Allow plenty of time to get the caffeine out of their system.
If you discover that even small amounts of caffeine still cause restlessness, work with your child to eliminate it entirely. Instead, try some herbal tea with your child. Chamomile, long associated with sleep and relaxation, is a good choice.
Enjoying Physical Exercise
Recent studies indicate that exercise, even close to bedtime, can improve sleep. Skip rope with your child, play catch or consider these gentler alternatives:
- Yoga, proven to calm the autonomic nervous system and release stress
- Walking in a natural setting such as a park, which can ease tension
Bridging the Gap Between Daytime Activity and Nighttime Rest
Create a ''winding down'' routine after homework and chores are done for the evening. It should be about fifteen to twenty-five minutes long, depending on the age of your child. Keep these winding-down activities in a common area of the house, rather than in your child's bedroom. Slowly decrease activity levels as bedtime gets closer. Some good choices for interesting yet restful activities include:
- Weaving, knitting or crocheting
- Coloring books
- Sculpting with clay
Working on quiet activities with repetitive motion can be lulling. Find projects that have easily-identifiable starting and stopping points. This makes transitioning to bedtime less abrupt for your ADHD child.
Welcome your child's input when choosing suitable activities. They will look forward to this personalized step in their nightly journey.
Settling Down to Sleep
The transitional activities of the winding-down period are over. Your child has washed up for bed. It's just about time to get tucked in for a good night's rest.
Creating a Nighttime Haven
Your child's room can become an oasis for good sleep, if it is:
- Dark or dim
- Comfortably cool
- Free from distracting clutter
Saying Goodnight to Electronics So Your Child Can Sleep
Explain to your child that their electronic devices need to rest and recharge at the end of the day, just like they do. At a predetermined time every night, take your child's mobile electronic devices into your own bedroom to recharge.
- Set firm limits on screen time.
- Shut off electronics at least three hours before bed.
- Consider moving any computers, game consoles or TV sets out of your child's bedroom.
As electronics are ''tucked in'' for the night, your child can participate in other, less stimulating activities. This will help make the transition to sleep less harsh.
Tucking In with a Bedtime Story
Depending on your child's age, you may read a bedtime story to your child - or they may read one to you. Use a real book, not a tablet or smartphone. Read by a soft, golden light that's just bright enough. (Brighter light, even if it's not specifically blue light, will stimulate wakefulness. Energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs are not a good choice here.)
For older children who feel they have outgrown bedtime stories, substitute a calm and reflective bedside talk about their day or their plans for their future.
Working Together to Find Rest
For best results, you and your child should collaborate to find your particular winning formula for restful nights. Seek your child's input about creating more structure and rituals for unwinding. Their involvement and cooperation is vital. Their reward will be enhanced concentration and performance the next school day.
Your child may lack perspective about the importance of consistently getting quality rest. They also may not be consciously aware of their own attention struggles. Younger children especially may simply feel that ''things are wrong,'' ''everything seems so hard'' or ''I can't do anything right.'' They may not fully grasp the lifelong impact of ADHD's daily challenges. Ultimately, you must step up to provide guidelines and guidance. As their parent, you can lead them to a better understanding - and better long-term habits.
Changes Now for a Brighter Future
Agreeing to new, more structured routines can be challenging for both you and your child. It may not seem worth the tantrums, tears, and taciturn teen responses. In tough times, keep your goals in mind and stay the course. Making the transition to more restful routines means calmer times together at home. You'll have fewer fights and better sleep for both of you.
When your child is consistently well-rested, they will enjoy improved school performance. They can make the most of their educational potential. In the long-term, your child will more effectively navigate transitions and regulate their own levels of stimulation. These skills will serve them well - not only in school, but throughout their lifetime.