How ADHD Can Impact Your Child’s Sleep

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 09, 2022
4 min read

Research suggests as many as 70% of children with ADHD deal with some type of sleep problem. They may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or they may resist bedtime altogether. But there are steps you can take to help your child with ADHD get a better night’s sleep.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes trouble with sleep in kids with ADHD. These issues could be behavior related or because of medical conditions that get in the way of good sleep.

Possible reasons include:

  • Stimulants that treat ADHD (children who don’t take these medications can also have sleep problems)
  • Anxiety and behavioral problem combinations common in ADHD
  • Signals in the brain
  • Lower melatonin production, a hormone that helps bring on sleep

Having trouble sleeping in kids with ADHD can come in many forms, including:

Bedtime resistance. You may have trouble getting your child to go to bed, or they may stall and come out of their room over and over again.

Bedtime anxiety. Nighttime worries such as being alone or being in the dark may be stressful when it’s time for sleep. Or they may not be able to stop thinking about problems they’ve had during the day.

Insomnia. This is when your child either can’t fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. They usually wake up early, too. It may seem like your child can’t “turn off” their brain at night in order to drift off. Insomnia shows up more often in teens with ADHD than in younger kids.

Delayed sleep. Sometimes a child with ADHD has a sleep-wake cycle that’s shifted so that they aren’t sleepy at a typical bedtime. They’re wakeful until late at night and sleep in late. It’s more typical to see this in teens.

Specific sleep routines. Your child may need a particular toy or ritual to fall asleep, such as watching TV or having you sit in their room. If you take the thing away, they may wake up.

While many of these issues are common in childhood, they tend to happen more frequently in kids with ADHD. Kids with ADHD are also at higher risk for certain sleep disorders, including:

Sleep apnea and snoring. Both these issues are caused by a problem with breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea happens when the throat closes during sleep and stops breathing for a brief moment, which disrupts sleep.

Restless legs syndrome. This condition makes your child’s legs uncomfortable. To relieve the feeling, they often move their legs either while falling asleep or during sleep.

Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a disorder that makes you feel overwhelmed with sleepiness and fall asleep suddenly during the day. Studies show it may be more common in people who have ADHD than people who don’t.

It can be tricky to know which patterns of behavior in kids with ADHD are from lack of sleep and which are from ADHD itself. Not getting enough sleep can make certain ADHD symptoms worse, such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Difficulty processing information

It can also raise the risk of other problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Higher BMI (a measure body fat)

Overall, not getting enough sleep can lower kids’ quality of life. Moderate to serious sleep issues in children with ADHD are linked with problems such as:

Difficulty functioning during the day. Lack of sleep can make it hard to concentrate, which kids with ADHD often deal with already.

Irritability and restlessness. It’s common to be grumpy, tired, and have behavior issues when you don’t get enough sleep.

Missed school days. Kids with ADHD who don’t sleep well might not go to school as much as they need to because they can’t get up in the morning.

Higher likelihood of depression and anxiety in caregivers. If you take care of a child with ADHD who struggles with sleep, you’re more likely to deal with mental health issues and stress.

Before taking your child to a doctor to see if there are underlying medical issues keeping them from getting quality rest, be sure they have good sleep practices in place:

Keep a routine. Be consistent in the activities your child does in the hour or two before bedtime. Try to keep the same order of things: bath, pajamas, brushing teeth, books, quiet music, lights off, etc. This helps their body know what to expect and understand it’s “wind down” time.

Shut down screens. At least 30 minutes before bedtime, turn off electronics. This includes TV, smartphones, video games, and computers. Guide them toward more relaxing activities such as books, bath, or quiet music.

Limit caffeine. Curb drinks that have caffeine, such as soda, tea, and coffee-based drinks, especially in the second half of the day. Or you can just cut caffeine out completely.

Try white noise. Soft, constant noise from a white noise machine can help drown out noise distraction and lull your child to sleep.

Make sure they move. Exercise during the day can help lead to more restful, easy sleep at night.