Does your ADHD child have sleep problems? Try these non-medicated sleep solutions before a kids dose of melatonin!
Sleep disorders and ADHD tend to go hand in hand. In fact, sleep disorders are believe to be one of the most common conditions co-existing with ADHD. There has been many nights that I’ve sent my kids to bed, tucked them in tight, only to hear thumping and bumping, singing and playing going on in their rooms for hours.
The “but I can’t sleep”s and hundred trips back down the stairs to get a drink of water, use the bathroom, or tell you just one more thing can be exhausting when you’ve had a hyperactive and impulsive kid bouncing around you all day.
By 8pm I am DONE. I need my kids to go to bed so I can decompress and have some quiet for a few hours, maybe even spend some time chatting with my husband or watching a movie!
Finding “me time” is all incredibly hard to accomplish when your ADHD child will NOT go to bed!
Why ADHD Children Have Trouble Sleeping
When you have ADHD, it’s like having a brain that fires as rapidly as a rocket ship but only came equipped with bicycle breaks – kinda hard to slow a rocket ship down with the breaks of a bicycle!
Naturally – they have trouble turning off that awesome engine at night and falling asleep. There’s just too much to think about!
Some ADHD medications can interrupt sleep as well – and to make matters worse, lack of sleep can actually INCREASE some symptoms associated with ADHD!
Side Effects of Melatonin
Many parents turn to the use of Melatonin to help their ADHD child sleep. Doctors regularly prescribe the medication to children as young as two years old but it’s important to take a look at the side-effects.
The common side-effects of melatonin can range from daytime drowsiness; depressed mood, feeling irritable; stomach pain; headache; or dizziness.
Melatonin is also not supposed to be used long-term. In fact, it is listed as “likely safe” when used by adults for up to two years. In addition, it is listed as “possibly safe” when used short term with children and should be noted that because of it’s effects with other hormones it may interfere with development during adolescents.
It is very important to weigh the risks vs. benefits of giving your child melatonin before reaching out to your doctor about it.
Natural Sleep Solutions to Try with Your ADHD Child
We are a non-medicated ADHD household. Yes, my children have the same symptoms and many of the same difficulties navigating activities of daily life but we choose to use other methods of focusing their brains and bodies and teaching them tools to improve their organization and executive functioning.
Sleep does not come easy for several of our children but you will not find melatonin in our medicine cabinets. As we take an un-medicated approach to the ADHD symptoms during the day, we also take an unmedicated approach to ADHD sleep symptoms.
Before reaching out to your doctor to get that melatonin prescription I highly encourage you to try these natural sleep solutions for your ADHD child.
Proprioceptive Input/Heavy Work
Before we had a diagnosis or I even knew what proprioceptive input was, I found out how beneficial it is to regulating and calming the body.
When my son was 5 years old we signed him up for football. Much to our surprise all of the running, pushing, pulling and drills with pads that were being done would put him to sleep quickly and easily for the first time in five years.
Five years later, and after speaking with an occupational therapist that recommends the same type of input for my two year old – I am singing it from the rooftops!
To get your ADHD child to go to sleep, give them the input their bodies need to regulate.
Ways to do this can be as simple as sport that gives great proprioceptive input or a trip to the park to swing, climb and jump. You can use equipment at home like a mini trampoline or a gorilla gym.
A weighted blanket is another form of proprioceptive input and recommended by many occupational therapists to help calm the body.
These blankets can be used for sleep but also across the lap when needing to focus on schoolwork or a quiet activity.
The weight of the blanket gives the child the calming input their body needs.
Get Rid of Screen Time Early
We have all but completely eliminated electronics in our house. The kids watch their favorite shows on netflix but there are NO video games. Video games are like a drug to the ADHD brain so the less time they spend on them, the better.
Cutting out screentime as much as possible and turning them off completely an hour before sleep time helps the brain calm and regulate enough to fall asleep.
Change Your Bedtime Routine
We got rid of a “lights out” approach years ago – as soon as we realized that it was NOT working for our children. Our bedtime routine is still very strict and happens at the same time every single night – but we do not force our kids to go to sleep.
Instead of lights out, it is doors closed.
When the children were young we did this every night at 7pm. Now that they are older and many nights include sports practices the bedtime is 8pm. Everyone must go to their rooms, doors shut, but they are allowed to quietly entertain themselves until they fall asleep.
Most nights they take a book to bed to read but sometimes they can be found coloring or even quietly playing with LEGO until their brains have calmed enough.
With the addition of proprioceptive input in the evening, they are rarely awake past 830 or 9pm.
Making all of these changes simultaneously will give you the best results. Finding the right combination of exercise and activity for your ADHD child along with the elimination of screen time will have your child regulated for sleep before you know it!
I do hope that before you jump on the melatonin band wagon you will take a good look at what your child’s body might need instead and give it a try.
Keep in mind that just trying ONE of these strategies for one night will likely leave you ready to give it up and move on. Good healthy habits are not created in a day – they need several weeks of consistency and you, the parent, giving them your expectations while helping them attain these goals.
A natural approach is always the best approach if it can be achieved!
Rachael Wunderlich says