Adventures in Parenting: Hyperactivity and Sleep Issues

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If you are a parent who has a child with ADHD I can bet that you have most likely experienced difficulties getting your child to sleep and to stay asleep at one point or another. If you feel that sleep is an issue for your child, you are not alone. According to a March 2009 Medical News Today article entitled, "Underlying Sleep Problem Linked To Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder In Children" there is research to show that sleep problems are correlated with having ADHD: "A new study suggests there may be a specific sleep disorder intrinsic to patients who have ADHD. Researchers found that kids with the ADHD slept an average of 33 minutes less per night than healthy children, and they had 16 minutes less REM sleep." I can tell you from my own experience with my son Max, sleep has always been an issue for him.

My son's sleep problems began in infancy as he never settled into a pattern of sleeping that we could predict. As a toddler he would frequently wake up in the middle of the night and try to climb out of his crib. And by the time he was five or six he continued to wake up in the middle of the night and try to climb into our bed. My eldest son had never had such sleep issues so this was all new to us. Max's sleep problems continued through the years and basically there were two variations of sleep disturbance: He had problems getting to sleep so he was sometimes up very late or he would get to sleep okay but then wake up in the middle of the night often feeling hyperactive. These problems would send the whole household into chaos as we all had schedules to wake up at a certain time. For some years we were all sleep deprived. It was as though Max did not want the party to end and sleep was interrupting his fun.

I am going to tell you the happy ending to this story so all of you who are struggling to cope with your child's sleep issues can know that there is hope. My son is now an adolescent and he sleeps very well. He goes to bed at a good time, he gets up at a regular time and he sleeps through the night. He has been sleeping well for some years now, some due to maturation, but a lot due to strategies we employed to ensure he got a good night's sleep (and us too)

Here is a list of methods and strategies we used which cumulated in a good night's sleep for Max and my family.

  1. Max had food allergies which we needed to address. It makes sense that if a child is not feeling well then disturbances in sleep are more likely. Max had things like eczema, hives, and chronic bowel problems as well as behavioral problems due to his inability to digest gluten or dairy products. Removing these elements from his diet inevitably helped him to sleep better.

  1. We set a sleep schedule where we didn't let him sleep in if he didn't get to sleep on time the night before. This was hard to implement and we had many days and weeks of dealing with a very grouchy kid but in the end it paid off. After a certain age, napping works against you. If you allow your child to nap for long periods of time during the day, it is guaranteed that they will be up until all hours of the night. Have a set time for bed and a set time for getting up and really try to stick to that schedule.

  1. This was not an issue for our child because I can count on my hand the number of times Max has had things like soda pop but you definitely want to limit any caffeine in your child's diet and especially before bed.

  1. Make sure to give your child a wind down period. It is hard to go to sleep if they are still playing video games or running around right before bed. Have some sort of calming down ritual. Max likes a bath with the Epsom salts. This is particularly calming for him but it just depends on your child. Remember to also give your child a verbal cue as to how many minutes before bedtime. I have found that this helps my son to be more mentally prepared for sleep.

  2. We noticed a trend, that if Max didn't get much exercise during the day, sleep was harder to come by. Exercise is a great way for your child to relieve stress and get out all that excess energy. It also helps them to sleep. If you are trapped inside on cold days, buy your child a mini-trampoline for indoors, exercise ball, or put on a dance video. Try to get your child to engage in some sort of exercise each and every day. Their sleep will be much better.

  1. I have saved the best for last. This is something I had wished I had known about earlier. If you have not heard of it, it is called Melatonin. It is a natural substance you can find in any health food store sold as a sleep aid. (There are people who do not react to Melatonin. Everyone will react differently.) As with anything please talk to your doctor before giving Melatonin to your child. Your doctor can tell you if it will interfere with any of your child's medications. My son's neurologist recommended Melatonin for Max and it has worked beautifully. I am even using it now. I got the sublingual kind that melts in the mouth and they have different flavors. Max likes peppermint. It is easily crushed into a drink. It is not addictive or anything like that. And Max is to the point where he no longer needs to take it. His sleep is so regulated that we tell him when it is fifteen minutes before bed and he goes straight up and sleeps through the night. Needless to say I am grateful! You don't know how precious sleep is until you lose it.

I hope this post has been helpful to you. If you have any additional strategies for dealing with sleep issues please let us know in a comment. We always love to hear from our readers. Please know that YOU are the experts when it comes to helping your child. Some of the best suggestions come from parents helping other parents.

For general information about sleep issues please visit Health Central's My Sleep Central.

Here are some additional resources from ADHD Central about the topic of sleep problems for those who have ADHD: