What’s inside this article: A look at how children’s sleep is affected by ADHD, how many hours of sleep children need per day based on their age, and 6 tips to help improve your child’s sleep.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Most Kids With ADHD Also Have Disordered Sleep
75% of kids with ADHD experience disordered sleep.
I saw that statistic glaring at me on a poster in my son’s developmental pediatrician’s office at our last appointment. This prompted me to find out more.
How does inadequate sleep affect ADHD symptoms?
How much sleep do kids need?
What can you do to help kids with ADHD sleep?
I’m going to answer all of those questions and hopefully, as a parent, you can take away at least one new piece of information that will help your child get a better night’s sleep.
Why is sleep important?
Getting enough sleep is a crucial component of childhood development.
Inadequate sleep affects:
- mental health
Plus, chronic sleep disturbances can lead to depression and other long term health issues.
Our bodies need sleep to function efficiently. The amount of sleep you get affects stress hormones, growth hormones, appetite, blood pressure, breathing, and cardiovascular health. (Source)
Without enough sleep, your child’s ADHD symptoms will be worse.
How much sleep does your child need?
The chart below shows how much sleep per day a child should be getting based on their age.
These numbers are considered the minimum amount per day to support adequate brain and body functions.
This is total sleep, so any time spent napping is included.
How much sleep does your child get each night? Have you ever tracked it?
I purchased a Garmin vivofit jr activity and sleep tracker for my son as a birthday gift, but I had the chance to monitor his sleep with it, too.
The image below is a screenshot from the app that shows his average sleep per night over a four-week period.
As you can see, he averages 8 hours and 55 minutes per night. He’s 8 years old, so he should be sleeping for 10.5 hours each night.
So, I knew it would be best for him if we could find ways to increase the total amount of sleep he’s getting each night.
This next image is another screenshot of the four weeks following the last, after making adjustments.
You can see his average is now 9 hours and 25 minutes. It’s still not quite enough sleep. but it has improved and we’re continuing to work on getting enough sleep.
You can also see in the picture below that the amount of deep sleep he’s getting has improved by quite a bit, which is good!
How to Improve Your ADHD Child’s Sleep?
Chance are, if you’re reading this, you have a child with ADHD and want to find ways to improve their sleep. They may not be getting enough sleep, or their sleep may be poor quality.
However, the most common sleep disorder experienced by children with ADHD is sleep anxiety with resistance to bedtime.
The following tips will help you get your child to fall asleep quicker, and experience better quality sleep overall.
1. Enough Daytime Exercise
Getting enough exercise during the day is proven to improve sleep quality, and duration, according to The Sleep Doctor.
Additionally, exercise provides children with much needed sensory input that helps reduce hyperactivity, improves focus, concentration, and learning.
Exercise also boosts brain function by increasing dopamine levels present in the brain and reducing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
2. Comfortable Bedding
You would be surprised what a difference the right bedding can make when it comes to sleep. Sheets and bedding made of synthetic fibers can cause overheating which may lead to restlessness, night waking, or interrupted deep sleep.
Ideally, your child’s bedding should be made from 100% cotton. Cotton bedding is breathable. It helps you regulate your body temperature, draws heat away from your body, and absorbs excess moisture.
Basically, you won’t wake up because you’re sweating and uncomfortable.
Cotton is also hypoallergenic, environmentally friendly, and has antimicrobial properties.
I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of 100% organic cotton sheets from California Design Den to review before writing this post. Trust me, do not underestimate the difference quality cotton bedding can make in overall sleep quality.
Before receiving these sheets, admittedly, my whole family was sleeping on old, super cheap sheets from Walmart that are a cotton-polyester mix.
I didn’t see the value in spending a lot of money on sheets and I didn’t think it would make a difference. But, after trying cotton sheets, I will never go back.
They are soft and make you feel refreshed in a way I didn’t think was possible.
I love California Design Den because the deep pockets fit my thick mattress well, they are under $50 a set, and I know they’re certified 100% organic cotton.
Spritz your child’s sheets, or their mattress, with an antibacterial linen spray, infused with essential oils, to help them have an even more peaceful sleep.
I recommend this antibacterial linen spray recipe. However, try using just 30 drops of lavender when mixing for children, omitting the other essential oils from the recipe.
3. Omega-3 & Magnesium Supplements
Every single child with an ADHD diagnosis should be taking an omega-3 supplement and a magnesium supplement. The brain requires these important nutrients in order to produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter.
ADHD is related to low serotonin, and stimulant ADHD medications actually work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. So, it’s important the body has enough resources available to produce serotonin.
However, these supplements don’t only improve symptoms of ADHD, they can also improve your child’s sleep.
Omega-3 helps improve sleep by increasing the natural levels of melatonin in the body. Magnesium helps sleep by boosting the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA which is known for its calming effects on the body.
My family uses the supplement ChildCalm from Advanced Nutrition by Zahler.
4. Maintain a Consistent Bedtime Routine
There is research linking ADHD to disruptions in normal circadian rhythm function. These disruptions can cause chronic sleep problems, which is why if your child has ADHD it’s important to maintain a consistent bedtime routine.
This includes consistent sleep and wake times. Ideally, you should be consistent with these times even on weekends, summer vacation, etc. to help keep your child’s circadian patterns consistent.
Additionally, you should keep everything about your bedtime routine as consistent as possible to help prepare your child for bedtime.
Try using a specific song or alarm to signify the beginning of your bedtime routine. From there, things should be done in the same order each night.
If your child doesn’t bath or shower every single night, do not include a bath in the bedtime routine. Instead, bath time can be done in the mornings or after school.
5. Include a Wind Down Hour in Your Routine
As part of your regular routine, have a “wind-down hour” to commence your bedtime routine each night. Kids with ADHD benefit from this extra time to prepare their bodies for sleep.
During the hour before bedtime, you should keep lights dimmed. Your child should have no screen time or electronic use at all, and they should do a relaxing activity.
Relaxing Activity Ideas During Wind Down Hour:
- Coloring or drawing
- Writing in a journal
- Listening to soothing music or looking at calming lights
- Calming yoga
- Relaxing breathing exercises
- Mindfulness activities
6. Melatonin, or Other Medications
Some children with ADHD, in order to sleep, must take a melatonin supplement, or for some, other prescription medications.
You should never begin any new medication or supplement without talking with your child’s doctor first. I know a lot of parents are hesitant to use melatonin and worry their child will never be able to sleep without it.
It’s ultimately a personal choice.
However, if your child is regularly not getting the amount of sleep they need, their cognitive development may be severely impacted.
Sleep is exceptionally important for development, so there may come a time when you need to ask yourself (and your doctor) if the effects of poor sleep are more serious than the risks of taking melatonin or another sleep aid.
If your child is on medication to manage their ADHD symptoms, you may think trouble sleeping is just an inconvenient side effect your child needs to deal with. However, just because a side effect is common doesn’t mean you should have to live with it.
A good treatment plan that works for you and your child addresses even the most common side effects such as trouble sleeping and poor appetite.