- 8 Sleep Tips for Kids with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome (ASD)
- Snoozefest: Tricks for An Easier Bedtime
- The Biology of Sleep
- Steer clear of sleeping pills.
- Set a realistic bedtime.
- Keep the bedroom completely dark.
- Look into relaxation techniques.
- When a child refuses to go to bed…
- How to Help Your Child with ADHD Sleep Better
- The ADHD-Poor Sleep Relationship
- How to Boost Sleep in Your Child with ADHD
- Bedtime battles with your toddler
- Why does my toddler make bedtimes such a battle?
- How can I encourage my toddler to fall asleep without me there?
- How can I stop my toddler stalling at bedtime?
- My toddler wants to get her own way at bedtime. What can I do?
- Why does my toddler keep climbing out of her cot?
8 Sleep Tips for Kids with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome (ASD)
Help Your Child Get More Sleep
Kids with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome (ASD) often struggle to get enough sleep, and, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, kids with ADHD who get inadequate sleep experience significant deterioration in their ability to pay attention and achieve academic success. While sleep may be hard to come by for kids with neuro-developmental disorders, a recent study suggests that even moderate sleep gains (approximately 30 more minutes each night) can lead to improved alertness and better behavior in school-aged children. Find below eight tips to calm your child before bedtime and help him or her get more restorative sleep.
Exercise daily and avoid trigger foods. Make exercise and nutrition priorities for your family. Kids should get at least an hour of physical activity each day. While exercise will help keep kids physically fit, it will also help them sleep better at night. In addition, make healthy eating habits the norm for your family by avoiding caffeine and artificial ingredients that may promote hyperactivity. Consider nutritional testing to determine if your child has dietary or digestion issues like food sensitivities or vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies that can exacerbate anxiety and sleep problems.
Stick to a schedule. Decide ahead of time with your child what the night time routine will be, and include when to bathe, brush teeth, read, etc. Remember, kids with neuro-developmental disorders like ADHD and Asperger Syndrome (ASD) need routine and predictability even more than other kids. Make sure the hour before bedtime is calm and quiet and that lights are kept low so the body can produce enough melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.
Set a bedtime alarm. Just as you set an alarm for waking, consider setting a bedtime alarm so kids associate their bedtime with a clock or timer instead of feeling like sleep is a parental demand. Make sure the sound of the alarm is quiet and not intrusive. Eventually, your child will naturally associate the sound of the bedtime alarm with sleepiness.
Use white noise and blackout curtains. Kids with sensory issues often have extremely sensitive hearing. Using white noise or nature sounds to block neighborhood or household sounds is essential. Try an air purifier or fan for white noise or download an app that offers different nature sounds. You may have to try several sounds before you find one that works for your child. In addition, use blackout curtains to eliminate light in the room. Too much light at bedtime can interfere with the body’s melatonin production, so avoid screen time an hour before going to bed as well.
Try aroma therapy. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or vanilla can be calming for many people who experience sleeplessness. Let your child choose a calming scent that appeals to him or her, and then dab a little oil on a cotton ball and place it in his or her pillowcase.
Reduce anxiety. Anxious kids, like anxious adults, often have too much on their minds to fall asleep at night. Use these strategies to calm an anxious child so he or she has a better chance of falling asleep naturally.
Sleep with a weighted blanket. Kids with neuro-developmental disorders like ADHD and Asperger Syndrome (ASD) often crave deep pressure and have poor proprioception, which means they have trouble understanding where their bodies are in space . A heavy, weighted blanket can apply deep pressure to muscles and joints throughout the night, which helps regulate a disorganized sense of self and calm an overactive central nervous system. Organizing and calming the senses can support the body’s natural ability to fall asleep.
Consider melatonin. If you’ve tried all of the above sleep suggestions, and your child with a neuro-developmental disorder still isn’t getting enough sleep, ask your health care provider about supplemental melatonin. It could be that your child isn’t producing enough melatonin naturally to fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin dosing varies by age and size, so be sure to check with your healthcare provider about whether supplemental melatonin is right for your child.
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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment of specific medical conditions. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you and your family.
Snoozefest: Tricks for An Easier Bedtime
Getting a good night’s sleep can be a big problem for children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). Research has shown that 20 percent of these children have difficulty falling or staying asleep. That’s three times the rate among children who don’t have the condition.
A study from England has found that sleep problems are also common among parents of kids with ADHD. In the study, which involved 100 parents of children five to 17 years of age, 57 percent of the parents slept six hours or less, with 27 percent getting less than five hours. More than half of the kids got up at least four times during the night. Forty-two percent of the kids woke up before 6:00 a.m.
It doesn’t take much to figure out what’s going on here: When children are awake, it’s hard for parents to get any shuteye.
Sleep deprivation affects adults the way it affects kids: It makes them irritable (and sometimes depressed), impatient, and less efficient at just about everything they do. Adults who haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep are more likely to miss work. And sleep-deprived parents aren’t very good at managing their children.
The Biology of Sleep
There’s a biological reason why children with ADHD tend to sleep less than kids without the condition: Many of the same regions of the brain regulate both attention and sleep. A child who has attention problems is likely to have sleep problems, as well.
You can’t change your child’s biology. But there are ADHD-friendly strategies to help kids overcome their sleep problems. Here’s what I tell parents:
Steer clear of sleeping pills.
Most sleep medications that work well for adults haven’t been adequately tested for their safety and effectiveness in children. That goes for the over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin, as well as prescription sleeping pills.
Doctors sometimes prescribe clonidine for children who have trouble falling asleep. The drug does make it easier to fall asleep, but its sedating effect lasts for only about six hours. Most kids who take it awaken around two o’clock in the morning.
Set a realistic bedtime.
Accept the fact that your child may need less sleep than other kids his age. If you put him to bed too early, there’s a chance that he’ll just lie there, wide awake, for an extended period of time. That will make him anxious — and will only increase the likelihood that he’ll climb out of bed and disturb your sleep.
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 kids from Yoga Journal.)
When a child refuses to go to bed…
Some children with ADHD — 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 a 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.
Updated on December 26, 2019
How to Help Your Child with ADHD Sleep Better
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder said to affect about 5% of children (and adults).
Kids with ADHD are often hyper, forgetful, impulsive and distractible. (Of course, these can all be normal behaviors for any toddler, which is why doctors are very hesitant to diagnose ADHD before the age of 5.)
Short sleep and hyperactivity spiral together. Children with ADHD tend to get especially defiant, moody and wild when they’re tired. Unfortunately, that usually results in less sleep and kids who act even more wired the next day…and so the cycle continues.
The ADHD-Poor Sleep Relationship
Children with ADHD often have sleep problems. But can poor sleep actually trigger some kids’ hyperactivity?
A study of nearly 7,000 California kids showed that preschoolers who slept less were rated by their parents as more hyperactive and less attentive in kindergarten.
The lead researcher, Erika Gaylor, speculated that poor sleep may push some children toward being more impulsive and inattentive later in life.
This suspicion that poor early sleep may lead to ADHD later in childhood is supported by a Canadian study. Researchers studying more than a 1,000 children (2-6 years old) found that toddlers sleeping less than 10 hours a night were twice as likely to become hyperactive—later, when they became preschoolers!
Sleep problems are very common in ADHD. These problems may be related to the ADHD itself or to co-occurring problems like anxiety or fear.
Also, one common effect of ADHD medicines in young children is poor sleep. (Many ADHD medications are stimulants, chemically related to amphetamine.)
How to Boost Sleep in Your Child with ADHD
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, here are the best ways to promote sleep:
- Make sure your child exercises daily and gets some sun every day.
- Give regular, healthy meals high in fiber and containing protein and vegetables.
- Avoid foods with artificial colors and flavors.
- Avoid sweetened breakfast cereals and sugary drinks, including undiluted juice. Instead, offer naturally sweet mint or chamomile tea. (Interestingly, caffeinated drinks have been used for decades to reduce the wild behavior and impulsivity of ADHD.)
- Keep your nap schedule consistent.
- Practice magic breathing and patience-stretching every day.
- Create stable and reliable pre-bedtime routines, including quiet play, reading, massage, white noise, and dimmed lights. (Turn off bright TV, computer and video game screens.)
- Take the TV out of his room.
- Avoid roughhousing, family arguments, and loud or scary TV shows before bedtime.
- Get your child into bed before he’s overtired.
- Ask your child’s doctor about medication side effects and see if you use a regimen that minimizes sleep problems. (Also, ask about using melatonin as a sleep enhancer.)
- Treat any allergies, snoring problems, or other sleep disruptors.
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Bedtime battles with your toddler
Why does my toddler make bedtimes such a battle?
A toddler who refuses to go to sleep will challenge the patience of even the most serene parent. After a busy day, you won’t be alone if you reach a point where the one thing you want most in the world is for your child to go to bed. She, meanwhile, may have other ideas. Although this is normal toddler behaviour, it can still be incredibly frustrating and disheartening.
The most common reasons for your toddler to drag out bedtime include:
- being confused about her bedtime routine
- being unable to soothe herself
- testing out her own independence
- wanting to spend more time with you
- being afraid you won’t come back (separation anxiety)
- being over-stimulated
Of course, knowing what the problem may be doesn’t make it any easier when your toddler’s running around at 10pm for the fourth night running!
However, if you can create a consistent routine, and give your toddler some independence without her taking control, you should find that things get easier.
You’ll find more detailed advice about common bedtime battles below. You may need to work at bedtime for a little while before you see a change. But your hard work will certainly pay off when you finally get that early night you’re desperate for!
In the meantime though, make sure you take care of yourself. Share out bedtime duties with your partner, or recruit family members to pitch in if needs be. If that’s not possible, go to a separate room if everything gets too much. There’s no harm in escaping the chaos for a few minutes to take some deep breaths.
Remember that your toddler’s behaviour isn’t a reflection on you! The key to changing her behaviour is to keep calm, consistent and firm.
How can I encourage my toddler to fall asleep without me there?
It will help your toddler to feel more comfortable about bedtime if she knows what to expect, and what’s expected of her.
The best way to do this is to establish and maintain a consistent bedtime routine. For example, you could give her a warm bath, read her a story and then put her into bed while she’s still awake.
When you put her down, tell her that if she stays in bed you’ll come back to check on her in five minutes. Let her know that she’s safe and that you’ll be nearby. If she doesn’t drift off straight away, come back in another five minutes or so. Repeat this as often as you need to until she falls asleep.
It may be tempting to give in and stay with your toddler until she falls asleep. But the longer you let this habit continue, the harder it will be to break. To give yourself a rest and set your toddler up for the future, it’s important that she learns to self-settle.
How can I stop my toddler stalling at bedtime?
Stalling at bedtime is a classic toddler tactic. By asking for just one more kiss or yet another glass of water, your toddler may just be trying to negotiate a little extra time with you.
However, it’s important to stick to the same bedtime every night so that your toddler doesn’t become over-tired. Staying up late will just over-stimulate her, and she’ll find it difficult to drift off. She may wake more in the night too.
Try to anticipate her requests, and make them part of her usual nightly routine. Put a glass of water on her bedside table, change her nappy or take her to the toilet, and give her plenty of hugs and kisses before leaving the room.
You could also let your toddler have one request each night, so she feels that she has some control over the situation. If you suspect that she’s still trying to drag things out after that, be firm with her. Tell her it’s time for bed and there’ll be plenty of time to finish her game or read another story tomorrow.
My toddler wants to get her own way at bedtime. What can I do?
Your toddler is probably just testing out her growing independence. As she starts to realise that she’s her own person, she may want to prove this by using her new favourite word, .
Offering your toddler a few basic choices at bedtime will let her explore her independence without taking control. For example, you could let her decide what story she’d like to hear, or whether she wants to wear the blue or the green pyjamas.
Only give your toddler two or three alternatives, and only offer options that you’re happy with. If you ask who she wants to do bathtime, she could well say someone who isn’t there! Instead, ask ‘Do you want Mummy or Daddy to do bathtime?’ She still gets to make the choice, but either will work.
It’s hard to say no when your toddler cries or pleads for an exception to the going-to-bed rule. But standing your ground will help her to learn good habits. If you give in to her request once, you’ll hear it again and again.
If you’re frustrated, try not to engage in a power struggle. Ignore your toddler’s tantrums too. Paying attention to her, even if you’re displeased or angry, will only reinforce her behaviour.
Instead, speak calmly and quietly, but insist that when time’s up, time’s up.
Why does my toddler keep climbing out of her cot?
If your toddler likes to escape her cot, she may be ready to give it up and move to a bed. Most toddlers reach this stage sometime after 18 months.
Moving to a proper bed signals to your toddler that she’s growing up. You can use it as a chance to teach her that part of getting older is learning how to go to bed when she needs to rest.
After the confinement of your toddler’s cot, she may get out of her bed over and over again, just because she can. When this happens, simply take her back to bed, firmly tell her that it’s time to go to sleep, and leave.
Be sure to praise your toddler lots when she does stay in her new bed in the evening and overnight.
Establishing good sleep habits takes time and patience, but the extra effort taken now will save many battles in the future.
Learn what to do if your toddler wakes up too early or refuses to take a nap.