Getting Your Child to Sleep
Note: Although this hub was written specifically for children with ADD, these sleep tips are suitable for all children struggling with sleep issues.
Please go to Sleep
If you are raising a child with ADD you know that sleep can be hard to come by. On more than one occasion I have been woken up by my daughter winging around her bedroom like a humming bird on espresso in the wee hours of the night. Bedtime used to be the most difficult time of the day at our house, but with a lot of trial and error and some great advice from professionals we have found a way to have peaceful bedtimes and almost always a full night of sleep.
Move bedtime up by an hour and allow for some unwind time
I transition fast, so when I say I am going to bed I mean within ten minutes I will be in my pjs, have brushed my teeth and have the lights off and my eyes closed. It drives my partner nuts and it is just plain unfathomable for my daughter. Transitioning into a prescribed activity, like going to bed, is not something kids with ADD can do easily. Add to this that by this stage of the day; if they are on medication it has worn off, bedtime can become impossible. We have found that the best way to deal with this transition issue is to set bedtime an hour earlier than the usual time and allow for some unwind time. By this I mean time in their room to mess around with toys, listen to music, stand on their head or do whatever it is they feel like doing. The only stipulation we have is that you do your bedtime routine first: teeth, toilet, and clothes out for tomorrow. Parenting kids with ADD can often be counter intuitive, while we might think sitting quietly and looking at books is the best activity to quiet a child down before bed, ADD kids need this one last opportunity to get things out of their system.
No screens an hour before bed
Wow was this an unpopular decision at our house in the beginning. I’m a TV scrooge to begin with, so when I took away the nightly half hour of TV before bed my name was “Mud,” but trust me this works. TV can be like a magic elixir of peace and quiet for some children with ADD, but if they watch it before bed it doesn’t allow them time to work out whatever remaining energy they might have before it’s time to hit the sack and may give you an extra fight on your hands about turning off the TV. Find another time for their daily TV dose if they need one.
We do the bedtime snack thing. Our daughter is rail thin due to genetics and the side effects of the meds, so when the medication wears off we fill her up. Nothing too heavy duty, just toast or cereal and always a banana. Bananas are natures little sedative, loaded up with tryptophan and a healthy caloric punch, and peeling one takes way less time then cooking a turkey. One banana might just mellow out your little one enough to head off into dream land.
We have an awesome pediatrician who has dedicated his life to working with kids with ADD and runs a sleep lab to try and unlock the secrets to getting them to sleep. According to his research he has found that the naturally occurring compound melatonin works just as effectively as sleep medication on the majority of his subjects. In Canada it can be bought over the counter and comes in a handy chocolate mint flavor that melts under your tongue. Our daughter takes 3mg a night and we have seen a huge improvement with her getting and staying asleep. And hooray she doesn’t have to take more drugs! I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, consult your physician before giving your child any medication, herbal remedy or supplement.
Lights, Music, Snoring
Again I go back to the counter-intuitive side of parenting a child with ADD, and by that I mean take what you think is sensible and do the opposite. In the case of bedtime, you would think that a dark, quiet room would be the way to go to get an over excited child to bed, if they have ADD that is the worst idea. The ADD brain works best when it has a ton of stimuli, so if you take away that stimuli they will look for it by getting out of bed, scratching paint of the walls or climbing out a window. But if you allow them to go to bed with music or an audio book and a cool night light that puts shapes on the ceiling, their brain is stimulated and they can stay put and eventually drift off and get the rest they so desperately need. This was the hardest one to reconcile ourselves with, noise, lights, really? But it works.
I am very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people who are also living through the trials and jubilation of raising a child with ADD. One mother who is parenting a very bright little guy who struggles with ADHD has come up with a great reward system that is helping him reach some very important goals like staying in bed. The plan is simple, if he stays in bed all night he gets a gumball. He loves gumballs, so it is starting to work. Complicated reward systems with delayed gratification don’t always go over well with children with ADD, the simpler the better. And any opportunity to celebrate and reward a success should be grabbed, because success in school and in social areas often doesn’t come easily to these kids.
Tomorrow is a new day
Lastly, make sure to hug your child, tell them you love them and remind them that tomorrow is a new day. The days and nights can be long when ADD is concerned and everyone's mental health can take a beating. End the day with love and the promise of a fresh start. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get a good night sleep.
Remember: At any given moment you and your child are doing the best that you can in that moment. Forgive yourself, forgive each other and for goodness sake get some sleep.