Shuteye Strategies for ADHD Children

ADHD health advice to help your ADD child get the sleep she needs.

Bedtime Strategies, Part 2

Whatever bedtime you establish, enforce it consistently — on weekends as well as during the week. Letting your child stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights will disrupt his circadian clock; come Monday morning, he’ll wake up with something akin to jet lag.

The hour or so leading up to your child’s bedtime should be devoted to reading, listening to music, or some other calm, relaxing activity. Allow him to have a snack (he won’t be able to sleep if he’s hungry). Violent TV programs and video games should be strictly off-limits at this time. No roughhousing, either.

Keep the bedroom completely dark.

In addition to cueing your child that it’s time to go to sleep, darkness eliminates the visual distractions that keep him from falling asleep. If a child can’t see his toys, he’s less likely to get out of bed to play with them.

What if your child is afraid of the dark and needs a light on to fall asleep? Make sure that the light is dim, and that it goes off once he falls asleep (use a timer or shut it off yourself before you go to bed). Having a light on in the room after midnight will trigger the waking cycle.

Look into relaxation techniques.

Deep breathing or listening to soothing music can make it easier to fall asleep. Research shows that kids who do yoga are less hyperactive. (You can learn more about yoga’s calming effect on ADD kids from Yoga Journal.)

When a child refuses to go to bed

Some children with ADD — especially those who also suffer from oppositional defiant disorder or an anxiety disorder — will do anything to avoid going to bed. If you do manage to get them to go to bed, odds are, they’ll be up and about a short time later.

If this describes your child, your best bet may be a behavioral approach: Give strict orders for your child to stay in bed between certain hours, and sit outside her bedroom door to make sure she stays in bed.

If your child gets up, calmly tuck her back into bed. Then, in a soft but firm voice, remind her that it’s time to go to sleep. Reassure her that you will be nearby in case she needs you. After a few nights of this routine, she will come to understand that resisting is futile — and you’ll no longer have to sit vigilantly outside her door.

Use caution with this approach; it can be stressful for parents, as well as children. Don’t attempt it unless you and your partner both feel confident that you have the resolve and the stamina to follow through. If you allow your child to break the rules, even once, you’re sunk. Deviating from the rules is permissible only in the case of illness or some other special situation.

Dealing with an ADD child’s sleep problem isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Given the consequences of chronic sleep problems—for the entire family—it’s best to take action sooner rather than later.


This article comes from the October/November 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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