Erin Haak and her husband were stressed out and running on fumes, exhausted by their preschooler’s consistent struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
“My husband and I were losing hours of sleep nearly every night trying to help our son, Kieran, sleep,” said Haak, a Chicago mom of two, in an interview with Healthline.
Already exhausted from working all day, the consistent sleep disruptions increased the stress of her entire family. Eventually, discussing their sleep struggles with their pediatrician lead to a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Sleep issues are common for individuals with ADHD. Experts in the field say it’s primarily due to physical and mental restlessness, and the fact that ADHD is a round-the-clock condition.
Compounding the problem for those with ADHD, children in general, especially teens, are getting less sleep with the increasing hustle and bustle of American culture.
“Even just a few nights of sleep deprivation results in decreased focus and increased irritability and hyperactivity,” said Dr. Patricia O. Quinn, developmental pediatrician and author of “Understanding Girls with ADHD,” “Attention, Girls!” and “Putting on the Brakes.”
“I consider getting enough sleep to be an important aspect of addressing and treating ADHD,” she said.
Can Sleep Help Ease ADHD?
A new study concludes that behavioral sleep intervention can improve a child’s ADHD symptoms as well as the quality of life for the entire family.
The study implemented a plan to teach parents better sleep hygiene, in order to improve the quality and duration of sleep in kids with ADHD. Researchers found that educating parents on proper sleep habits lead to better sleep and was beneficial to children with ADHD.
Quinn, now retired, always asked the parents of her ADHD patients to keep a diary of sleep, diet, and behavior. If the journal revealed problems in these areas, Quinn could help families address them through the implementation of a routine or by adjusting an existing one.
Bedtime routine is part of the behavioral sleep intervention plan researchers used in the study, as well as a common recommendation of the Family Sleep Institute.
Children with ADHD need structure in their lives and bedtime is no different.
“Routines have always worked best for Kieran,” says Haak. “That was our starting point to improve his sleep.”
Routine Is Important for Children’s Sleep
Consistency is key.
“A clear and concise bedtime routine can help children sleep longer and have a better quality of sleep,” wrote Deborah Pedrick, founder of the Family Sleep Institute, and Debbie Sasson, PsyD, a Family Sleep Institute faculty member. “That includes an early enough bedtime, at least an hour of ‘screen-free’ time, and dim light right before bed.”
This is essentially the same advice parents receiving the intervention were given in the study. Researchers also advised parents to keep electronics out of the bedroom and have kids avoid caffeine.
This comprehensive sleep hygiene plan resulted in a modest improvement in the severity of ADHD symptoms — 12 percent fewer sleep complications compared to kids of families who didn’t receive the intervention.
“Healthy sleep is imperative to the mood, behavior, academic ability, and social resilience of our children,” conclude Pedrick and Sasson.
Proper sleep hygiene alone wasn’t enough intervention to help the Haak family with their son’s sleep issues, so he now takes medication to help him sleep, too. The combination of remedies was exactly what the family needed.
“Kieran’s mood and school performance improved, and we’re not fighting with one another as much,” says Haak. “Kieran’s improved sleep made our family much happier.”