6 Tips to Support Healthy Sleep Habits for Your Child

Is your child getting enough sleep? Sleep deprivation is a common problem for many of our children with ADHD and related issues. This is usually related to difficulties falling asleep … and not surprisingly, results in daytime sleepiness and difficulty waking up in the morning.  In fact, research shows that inadequate sleep can even worsen ADHD symptoms, including inattention, forgetfulness, and irritability.

So what can you do, as parents, to support healthy sleep habits in your child or teen? If you’re looking to make some changes, here are six tips to point you in the right direction …

1. Know how much sleep is enough.   

Before adjusting your child’s sleep routine, it’s important to know how much sleep to aim for. With this in mind, the American Academy of  Pediatrics makes the following sleep recommendations each night: 9-12 hours for younger children (ages 6-12) and 8-10 hours nightly for teens (ages 13-18)

2. Negotiate a consistent sleep schedule with your child.

It’s not just the hours of sleep, but also the consistency in timing that counts. A consistent sleep schedule actually keeps the body’s circadian rhythms in check, which helps us feel prepared to fall asleep/wake up when we need to. Keeping this in mind, try to negotiate a consistent routine with your child. This ideally involves waking up/going to sleep around the same time daily … including weekends, if possible. With younger children, this entails setting rules/boundaries around the sleep schedule and could likely include a rewards-based system to help with motivation. Understandably, teens are more challenging and often require some level of buy-in. This can include the understanding (and experience) that getting enough sleep will help them feel better.

3. Help your child/teen to develop calming rituals before sleep.   

There’s a lot to be said for nightly pre-sleep rituals, long after your child has grown out of the “bed, bath, book” routine of toddlerhood. But this concept remains important throughout development right into adulthood. Consider helping your child discover developmentally appropriate calming rituals before bed. Here are some examples of strategies that can help to calm the nervous system before sleep at any age: 

  • Deep breathing
  • Light stretching or yoga
  • Spraying lavender on the pillow/sheets
  • Listening to soft music, nature sounds, or white noise machines
  • Weighted blankets
  • Taking a warm bath

4. Eliminate electronics an hour before bedtime.  

It is well known that technology (such as cell phone, tablet, computer, etc.) is exciting, engaging, and basically stimulates the brain. Additionally, the blue light emitted from these devices actually prevents the release of melatonin (a hormone that promotes sleep). With this in mind, consider making it a family rule to remove all devices from the bedroom to prevent temptation at bedtime.

5. Discourage your child from taking naps or drinking caffeine in the late afternoon.  

When it comes to napping or drinking caffeine, timing is everything. Not surprisingly, napping too long or too late in the day can make it harder for anyone to fall asleep at night. According to sleep experts, the best time to take naps is between 2-3 pm and should be no longer than 30 minutes. Additionally, discourage your child from drinking caffeine or energy drinks within 4-6 hours before bedtime.  

6.  Consult with your child’s doctor.

If your child/teen regularly has difficulty sleeping, speak with his/her doctor to review options. For example, if your child takes stimulant medications, doing so too late in the day can actually interfere with falling asleep. In these situations, consider asking the doctor about taking medicine earlier in the day or switching to a shorter-acting formula. Additionally, some doctors recommend taking a low dose of melatonin 1-2 hours before bedtime to help jumpstart melatonin production (a sleep-inducing hormone).

In summary, healthy sleep habits are important to remember as we work on supporting our children’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development … especially for those with ADHD and related issues. Understandably, change is difficult, particularly when it comes to breaking old habits and developing new routines. But by enlisting the involvement of your child/teen and taking small/manageable steps, changing sleep habits is absolutely possible … one step at a time!

Andrea Yellinek, MS, OTR/L, CACP

Andrea Yellinek, MS, OTR/L, CACP

ADHD & Executive Functions Coach

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