There are key symptoms of ADHD in Children such as; impulsivity, difficulty paying attention and distractibility. However, one equally as challenging and often unnoticed problem of ADHD in Children is difficulty with sleep. Research shows that at least 50% of children with ADHD are having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking rested.
Most parents are alerted to sleeping difficulty when their children start taking ADHD medications. It is often then that they first notice that their child is not sleeping well. Understandably they may incorrectly blame it on the medication when in fact the problem has existed all along.
When my son was young and I would be changing his sheets I would wonder what he was doing at night when I notice wall paper peeled from beside his bed or doodles on the underside of his bunk bed! He never complained of not being able to sleep, went to bed willingly, woke up without much effort, but the evidence spoke volumes!
Only, after he was diagnosed and started taking ADHD medications did I start to notice that he was not falling asleep until long after he would get into bed. It occurred to me only then, that he had really never fallen asleep quickly, but always lay awake most nights. As with most children, he did not have the experience to realize that most people fell asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed and instead lay awake for hours without complaining.
As an ADHD coach I talk with many parents concerned about how ADHD medication might be making it difficult for their child to sleep. Knowing my own misunderstanding about how common sleeping difficulties are for persons with ADHD, I am able to let them know how common this problem is and help them trouble shoot as to whether this is a side effect of the medication or if their child has had sleeping challenges all along. Knowing the difference makes it possible for them to finally address what has perhaps been a long existing problem.
Key points to help differentiate between whether your child is experiencing sleep difficulties due to ADHD medication or as a result of their very active ADHD mind include:
• Making sure their medication is well worn off before bedtime. If they are on a medication that lasts 6-8 hours and took the last dose at 7 am and bedtime is 9 pm, it is unlikely that the sleeping problem is only related to the medication.
Some simple ADHD strategies I recommend to help children with ADHD fall asleep and sleep more easily include:
•Giving them a chance to “talk out” their day with parents before trying to fall asleep because their “busy brain or thoughts” are often what is keeping them awake.
•For children who can write, keeping a journal by their bedside so they can write down all their thoughts, get them out on paper and relax knowing they can look at them in the morning.
•Using a “white noise” in the background such as a fan or softly turned on radio
Children with ADHD have many challenges…make sure sleeping is not one of them!