Bedtime and the ADHD Child

InsomniaTomorrow is the first day of school for my 10-year-old and my 13-year-old ADHD child. That means a 8:00 p.m. shutdown of all games and televisions and a 9 p.m. lights out routine once again on school nights in the hopes that they will both be asleep by 10 p.m.

The thought has crossed my mind to drug them with horse tranquilizers, but since I don’t own a horse, and don’t know a veterinarian, that’s out of the question. The warm milk I can do … if I could get them to drink it. (It’s a joke about the tranquilizers people, don’t go all crazy on me!)

I’m not alone in dreading the battle to come this evening. They have had the freedom to sleep and wake as they please for the past 9 weeks, we started the shutdown and lights out by 11 p.m. two weeks ago … which didn’t work very well. I get that they probably won’t fall asleep right away tonight, heaven knows I sure never did on the night before school started. I was too excited for school to come the next day – like most “normal” kids awaiting Christmas morning – the beginning of the school year was my Christmas morning.

There is hope; however, for the parent with an ADHD child and getting back into the bedtime routines that we know they so desperately need, even if they don’t agree with us! Here is some practical advice to help you out with your bedtime routines.

1. Establish a Routine

Studies have shown that children need routines and organization, and the same holds true (even more so) for children with ADHD. Know your child, know what works best for them, and then implement that on a consistent, nightly basis.

2. What to Add to Your Routine

Bedtime routines should include a variety of items that signal it is the beginning of the “down time” before bed. Some of these nightly routines that you can include in your bedtime routine are:

  • light snack (to avoid the midnight raid of the fridge from your ADHD teen)
  • brushing their teeth
  • taking a shower or bath
  • 10 minute room pick-up
  • laying out their clothing for the next day
  • getting their backpack in order with all homework and papers required for school the next day
  • jumping into their pajamas and then bed for a bedtime story
  • playing a low-key game before bed
  • medications to help them sleep (if needed) such as Melatonin

Insomnia in Teens

3. Stick to the Routine

This has always been a tough one for me. I implement routines for my children, put them on paper, post them where we all can see them, and after about four or five days of having to hound them to adhere to the routines, I give up. Sound familiar? I’ve done extensive research this summer on the subject, because I am determined to not give in this year. The routines that our family will have in place are vitally important to the success of my children in school, and I have made it my priority to not fail them this year. If you set bedtime at 9:00 p.m. – STICK TO IT. They will fight, they will scream, they will push your buttons and find every possible excuse to get out of bed “just one more time” for this, that and the other. Unless it is a bathroom break – DON’T DO IT. Stick to your guns parents! Your children will thank you in the long run!

4. Late-Night Snacking

My 13-year-old is a bottomless pit once the sun goes down. He can (and often does) go without eating all day long (no matter how much I hound him to eat or place in front of him) so ensuring that his tummy is sufficiently fed before he goes to bed is vital in our situation. A secret I’ve learned is to give my son anything turkey-related for those late night cravings. Turkey contains the natural sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan and will help knock them right out! (It is also the reason that everyone takes a nap after their Thanksgiving feast each year!)

5. Sleep Aids.

I’m not a fan of adding additional medications to my son’s regime. He’s already on a 70mg dose of Vyvanse for his ADHD and 3mg of Intuniv to help with his ODD. However, even with all of the bedtime routines and sleep-inducing snacks, there are just some days when he cannot fall asleep. That’s when I reach for the Melatonin. I have a bottle of the 3mg Melatonin, and on the nights when I know he is going to have trouble falling asleep (such as when he’s had his face stuck in the XBox all day long playing video games) I will give him two about an hour or so before bed. It helps to relax him in conjunction with the shower and the down time and helps him to fall asleep. A few other alternatives you can check into as well (depending on the age of your child) are listed below.

Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra Tea

Reviewer: Dawn, mom of Julia, 11
We’ve tried other relaxation teas in the past that did nothing for Julia. But this one works! An hour before bedtime, Julia gets in bed with a mug of Sleepytime (with a little bit of honey) and a favorite book. The routine helps her fall asleep 90 percent of the time.

Twilight Turtle

Reviewer: Jennifer, mom of Daniel, 7
Daniel needed something to distract him from tossing and turning in bed. The Twilight Turtle projects glowing stars around the room, which Daniel finds relaxing. He focuses on the ceiling of stars as he drifts off into dreamland. Now he doesn’t want to go to sleep without his mini-galaxy.

Badger Sleep Balm

Reviewer: Priscilla, stepmom of Kyle, 7
Kyle had trouble falling asleep, and was a restless sleeper. Now when we rub a bit of Sleep Balm (it contains herbs, like lavender and rosemary) on his temples before bed, he sleeps calmly through the night.

Charlie Channel Bedtime Buddy CD

Reviewer: Wynn, mom of Colby, 7
Once my son dozed off, he would sleep through the night. Getting him there without lying down with him, though, was nearly impossible. Charlie Channel has a deep, soothing voice, and his stories help kids relax. Colby now falls asleep on his own, thanks to CC.

Our kids need us to give them structure and balance in their lives in order for them to grow into healthy, productive members of society who can excel at anything they set their mind to do. This isn’t just for ADHD kids, but for all kids. 

Figure out what works best for YOUR child and roll with it! Routines are not set in stone, so if you need to do a bit of adjusting and tweaking until you get it “just right” that’s fine. Here’s to you, parents, and a restful sleep tonight for you AND your children!

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  1. Those are great tips! Routines are a must in my house. They get all crazy if we get out of their routine for too long. We use the Twilight Turtles at bedtime. I feel like it helps with relaxation and not being afraid of the dark.

  2. Routines are so CRUCIAL for a successful bedtime in our house. And our kids aren't ADHD! SO I can only imagine it has to be even more so for those with ADHD. Part of our routine is also including the melatonin for my kids. I prefer a natural way to help them calm down when they just can't get their brain to turn off. We use it on nights that they struggle more than usual or when they have a test the next day or coming back from vacation and school the next day. It really helps them.

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