Sleep and ADHD

Information about Sleep and ADHD

When a young person has slept poorly they will have difficulties with attention and concentration, they will be more impulsive and show more emotional ‘ups and downs’ even if they don’t have ADHD.

sleeping moon

For young people with ADHD, sleep is particularly important. Good sleep can lead to significant improvements in attention and behaviour. Many children with ADHD have difficulty sleeping at night, whether or not they are on medication.

Even though we all know how important sleep is, at times it can seem almost impossible to change unhealthy sleep habits. Ten tips on healthy sleep are outlined below, and at the end of this section, you will find printable resources including a sleep workbook with more information

10 Healthy Sleep Tips

Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your child’s quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good “sleep hygiene”.

1. Avoid screen time before bed. 

girl and laptop

Sleep specialists say that the most common cause of sleep difficulties in people is screen use before bed (or in bed). They strongly advise against using any screens for at least an hour before bed, because the light from screens makes it difficult to fall asleep. This includes phones, tablets, games consoles or TV.

There is a scientific basis for this! The blue light from screens is an artificial colour that mimics daylight. It can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body's internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.

2. Pay attention to the sleep environment.

man sleeping in the bed

A cool, dark, quiet room is best but not always possible with siblings sharing rooms.

• The bedroom should be cool - between 15.5 and 19.5 degrees.
• The bedroom should also be as quiet as possible.
• It should be dark, consider using soft light from nightlights if the young person refuses to have all lights off.
• The mattress, pillow and duvet / blankets should be comfortable.
• The bedroom should be a sleep only zone. Remove all screens and TVs from bedrooms.

3. Stick to a sleep schedule.

Make bedtime and wake up time the same every day, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your child’s body clock and could help them fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

4. Develop bedtime routines and rituals.

bed stories time

Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual every night. A relaxing activity in a darkened room lets your child wind down before bedtime. It helps separate your child’s sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety (all things that make it more difficult to fall asleep!)

5Food and drink

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening. Avoid drinks with caffeine in the evening (including cocoa, coke, tea, coffee).
  • If possible avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if your child is still hungry.
  • Some people recommend having a mug of warm milk before bed.

6. Exercise daily.

girl jumping rope

Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. It is best to avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime.

7. Set limits on attention seeking behaviours at night.

It is important to develop a clear and consistent bedtime routine that the child understands.

8. Encourage children to fall asleep on their own.

Teach children from a young age to self soothe at night, for example by giving them a soft toy to hold when falling asleep, or by using a special blanket. Avoid activities that depend on a parent’s presence such as holding them to fall asleep.

9 Consider medical problems that may disrupt sleep for example allergies / bedwetting / bowel problems and if necessary speak to your child’s doctor about these.

10. Chart your child’s progress and praise your child for successful nights.

boy counting sheep in bed

By the time you attend a clinical service you may already have tried lots of these ideas for improving sleep. If these strategies are not effective, and sleep problems are causing significant problems for a young person, a medication called Melatonin may help. Your clinician will discuss the benefits and the disadvantages of this treatment with you. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is involved in coordinating the body's sleep-wake cycle and helping to regulate sleep.

Sleep resources

Sleep Workbook (PDF 469kB)

ATN quick tips on sleep (PDF 2.5MB)

ATN sleep strategies for teens tool kit (PDF 1.5MB)

ATN sleep tool kit for a parents guide (PDF 2.55MB)