My Child with Attention Issues Can’t Sleep. What Can I Do?

Happy children meditating.

As a parent, it’s hard for everyone when your child can’t sleep. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for children with attention issues to have trouble falling and staying asleep. In fact, some studies state that one quarter to one half of parents of children with attention issues say their child has difficulty falling or staying asleep. A lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on a child’s behavior, and could make their attention issues worse.

Finding ways to help children fall asleep and stay asleep longer is important to many parents, especially since your own sleep suffers when your child can’t sleep. But it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. And that’s why we’re here!

Here are a few things that you can do to could help improve your child’s ability to sleep.

Check their medication

If your child is taking medications—for attention-related issues or something else—check them to see if insomnia or sleep disorders is a side effect. Stimulants can sometimes be found in attention issue medication, and that could be impacting your child’s sleep cycle. And while those medications might help with their issues, it may be causing more problems. Check with your pediatrician if you think this might be a contributing factor, and see if there is a different medication they recommend that won’t impact your child’s sleep.

Similarly, we don’t recommend giving your child sleeping pills, including melatonin. Most sleeping medications are fine for adults, but may not be fully tested in children. They may do more harm than good.

Consider changing bedtime

What’s bedtime for your child? It’s possible that your child’s bedtime is too early, and that could be causing some issues with your child’s ability to fall asleep. While it’s true that children need more sleep than adults, it’s possible that your child doesn’t need as much sleep as other children the same age. Try moving bedtime back a half an hour to an hour and see if that helps improve their sleep. Work with your child to find the bedtime that works best for them, and make sure you both stick to it every day—even on weekends.

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Together, you can even come up with a bedtime routine to help them get ready for bed. Maybe an hour before bedtime, all the screens are put away, and your child focuses on bathing, brushing their teeth, getting things ready for the next day, and then climbing into bed for a story. Coming up with the plan together will help your child gain some control and understand the situation better.

Try relaxation techniques

Deep breathing, calming music, back rubs are all great ways to help your child physically and mentally relax at bedtime. Taking the time to physically relax their body and mind could make a difference in the time it takes them to fall asleep. Try different techniques like calming visualization before bedtime to see which works best for your child. One that works well is having your child close their eyes and pretend that a ribbon is wrapping around different parts of their body, tensing and releasing one muscle at a time until their whole body is relaxed.

Keeping the room dark and adding a white noise machine may also help your child find the relaxation they need to stay in a deep, uninterrupted sleep. Extra light may keep them from falling asleep, and noises from outside the room could wake them up and keep them awake. Eliminating both of those will ensure that your relaxation exercises don’t go to waste.

Talk to your child about sleeping

Many children don’t understand what is going on, why they can’t sleep, and why they feel so awful the next day. So talking to your child with attention issues about the importance of sleep and their issues could really help eliminate some of the problems. Talking about why they struggle to fall asleep—they can’t shut their mind off, they’re worried about something, they aren’t tired, for example—could help you better address their sleep issues. Talking might also reveal a secondary cause: while children with attention issues also have sleep problems, they are also at a greater risk to develop anxiety or depression, both of which can cause or exacerbate sleep issues. And that could help you get the right help for your child and improve their lives drastically.

Like most things with children, a lot will be learned by trial and error, so keep working at it. And if you have found other great tips and tricks that worked for your child - let us know! We’re always looking for additional ways to support our parents.

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