25 ADHD-Friendly Tips for a Good Nights Sleep

Serene man sleeping in bed in the morning
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Sleep and the lack of good quality sleep often are issues for children and adults living with ADHD. Sleep is important for your ability to focus and concentrate, mood, general health, and well-being. Unfortunately, many people do not get the sleep they need. As a result, ADHD symptoms can be worse during the day. These 25 sleep strategies are ones parents find helpful either for themselves or for their children.

Create a Bedtime Routine

A simple, consistent. and relaxing routine before bed helps prepare your body for sleep. Here are some suggested activities to include in your bedtime routine. When you find which activities help you, use them every night. You could even write them down in a bedtime routine checklist.

1. Have a Warm Shower or Bath: Sometimes, very simple things can be very effective. Having a bath or shower is relaxing and will help you to fall asleep.

2. Aromatherapy: Some people found that using aromatherapy oil at bath time helped them sleep, particular scents like lavender, jasmine, and chamomile.

3. A Warm Cup of Herbal Tea: Many people find that a cup of warm chamomile or “sweet dreams” tea helps promote a good night’s sleep. Be sure to choose a tea that doesn't have caffeine.

4. A Light Healthy Snack: Too much food before bedtime can make sleep more difficult, but many people find that a light snack is helpful.

5. Quiet Time: Spending some quiet time before bed helps the brain wind down and prepare for sleep. Here are some options to try during your quiet time:

  • Quiet, focused playtime for children

  • Reading time for both adults and children

  • Listening to relaxing music or soothing “outdoor” sounds like running water or crickets 

  • Deep relaxation and breathing exercises

  • Visualization  

  • Meditation 

6. Think Positive Thoughts: Though it may take some time to readjust your thinking, try to think “happy thoughts” at bedtime. Set aside those worries and any negative thoughts and get into the habit of positive thinking at bedtime. One tactic is to think of a favorite place, such as the beach. You might even play ocean sounds. The happy thoughts and good feelings can make it easier to drift off to sleep.

What to Avoid at Bedtime

The suggestions so far have been for items to include in a bedtime routine. However, it is also important to mention several things to avoid:

7. Don’t Start a Hyperfocus Activity at Bedtime: Even though it can be hard, do not begin an activity that you or your child will hyperfocus on as it can be very hard to disengage and go to bed. Both adults and children can hyperfocus when they are using their computer or mobile phone. Removing the TV, computer, and mobile phone from the bedroom helps.

8. Don’t Drink Alcohol: Many people think of alcohol as a sedative. Indeed, it does appear to help induce sleep. However, your sleep will be less restful and more disrupted. Alcohol can increase the number of times you wake up throughout the night and it stops you from getting the deep sleep you need to feel rested in the morning.

Alcohol is also a diuretic and can cause you to wake up several times during the night to urinate.

9. Don’t Drink Caffeine:  Avoid caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime or even eliminate it completely. Caffeine is a diuretic, so you may be making several bathroom trips during the night if you’ve consumed caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine is also a stimulant, which can keep some people awake.

10. Don’t Smoke: Not only is smoking harmful to your lungs, but nicotine may also make it more difficult to fall asleep and can result in disrupted sleep during the night.

11. Don’t Eat Sugar: Avoid sugary foods and drinks late in the day.

That extra initial energy boost from sugars can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

How to Fall Asleep

All of the activities in the bedtime routine will help to prepare you for sleep. Here are some additional rituals that can help you or your child fall asleep once you have climbed into bed.

12. Listen to an Audio Book: A nice story can help children and adults wind down. Try listening in the dark with your eyes closed.

13. Reading: Many people read a book or magazine to prepare for sleep. However, a really gripping book may backfire and keep you turning the pages for hours. A magazine might be a safer choice as the articles are much shorter, no matter how interesting.

14. White Noise: White noise is a gentle, steady, monotonous, peaceful sound like a fan humming or background sounds that are calming and not stimulating.

15. A Transitional Object: A soft, plush blanket or special, safe toy can help babies and toddlers transition to bedtime. A simple transitional object can continue to be helpful for older children.

16. Stop Worrying: Once your head hits the pillow, problems of the day can start racing through your mind making sleep impossible. One way to stop this is to keep a pen and pad of paper by your bedside. Jot down your thoughts and worries and promise yourself you will address them in the morning.

17. Sleep Environment: Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to sleep—pillows and mattress are comfortable, lights are dim, the temperature is cool (not cold or too warm), and it is quiet.

Healthy Habits

18. Have a Regular Bedtime and Wake Up Time: Going to bed at a set time each night and waking up at a regular time each morning promotes better sleep. Your internal biological clock helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. Consistency helps keep that clock set right and ensures you get the adequate sleep you need.

19. Exercise: Exercise not only promotes good health and overall well-being, it also promotes good sleep. Vigorous exercise right before bed isn’t recommended, but exercise during the day will make it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep at night. Be sure to include lots of physical outdoor play for your children who have ADHD. 

20. Be Patient With Changes: Sleep issues make take some time to resolve, so be patient. Stick with your routine and slowly but surely you will begin to experience the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Supplements

Some people find supplements help them with their sleep. It is important that you consult with your doctor before taking them as they may interact or interfere with other drugs you are taking.

21. Melatonin: This naturally-occurring hormone is secreted by a part of the brain called the pineal gland. Melatonin helps regulate sleep. The dark stimulates the production of melatonin and light suppresses it. It can improve sleep onset and duration in children with ADHD and the elderly. It can also be helpful with those who work rotating shifts or are dealing with jet lag. Discuss using melatonin with your doctor as it may interact with other medications and supplements.

22. L-Theanine: This is an amino acid found in green and black tea that seems to work against the effects of caffeine. It is used by some people to reduce stress and promote relaxation. However, you could get its benefits by drinking tea earlier in the day (avoid caffeine in the evening). Be sure to discuss any supplements with your doctor in case they may interact with medications.

Visit Your Doctor

While many sleep strategies can be implemented on your own, there are times when medical advice is needed. The last three tips are topics to talk to your doctor about.

23. Check Iron Levels: Some people with iron deficiency anemia experience restless leg syndrome (RLS) which can cause difficulty falling and staying asleep.

24. Adjust Medication Times: An adjustment in your ADHD medication dosage or the time medication is taken may help make sleep a little easier. Speak with your doctor about this.

25. If Sleep Problems Continue: Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or other medical issues may be causing or contributing to sleep problems. If you continue to have concerns about sleep, consult your doctor.

Sources:

ADHD, Sleep and Sleep Disorders. CHADD. http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/Coexisting-Conditions/ADHD-Sleep-and-Sleep-Disorders.aspx.

L-Theanine Supplement Review. Cleveland Clinic. http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/Features/Pages/l-theanine-pro-con.aspx.

Melatonin. Cleveland Clinic. http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/Features/Pages/Melatonin.aspx.

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