ADHD and Sleep

ADHD and SleepIn a prior article, I talked about ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and sleep problems. Today, I have a guest post from Peggy Dolane telling her story of her daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD and how it affected her sleep and how her family solved the problem. I thought this could help others with children diagnosed with ADHD and suffer sleep deprivation.


ADHD and Sleep

by Peggy Dolane
Peggy Dolane is a freelance marketing writer and strategist. Her current projects include writing the blog for the Edge Foundation, a non-profit that provides coaching for students with ADHD.

Three years ago, my seven year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. Looking back on it, difficulty falling sleep was one of the significant symptoms of her ADHD. From day one, even as a baby, sleep didn’t come as easily as for her older brother. She would lie in her crib, clearly tired, singing to herself for up to an hour every night. Often, you’d find her sitting up in her crib asleep!

Once we moved her to a big-girl bed, sleep became a major issue. She just couldn’t seem to let go at the end of the day. The more tired she was, the harder it was for her to go to sleep. Exhausted, she would have major tantrums at night. And, she refused to stay in bed. If I didn’t sit right outside her door until she fell asleep, I’d find her in the kitchen smearing strawberry jam like finger-paints on the refrigerator door. Or, she’d be happily sprinkling all of my spices throughout the kitchen. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a turmeric stain out?) More nights than I care to remember, she would wind up in a hysterical tantrum that only ended when she was spanked. Somehow, that worked to send her off to sleep. Traveling was also very difficult for our family. We had to book two hotel rooms so at least half of our family could get some sleep. She would be up until 1 or 2 in the morning EVERY NIGHT.

I read every book on sleep to help her. But nothing worked. Desperate, we consulted with a psychologist who worked with us on a very strict sleep regime with no results. During this time she was diagnosed with ADHD and I read that sleep disorders are common with children who have ADHD. I found an article that said that Melatonin was a helpful, natural, supplement that many people with ADHD use to fall asleep.

If you had asked me before raising my daughter if I’d consider giving my child medication to help her sleep, I’d have said, “no way!” I remember as an adolescent lying awake at night, tired, unable to sleep and my mother having me tough it out. That’s just what you do. But we were desperate. No one wants to spank their child to sleep at night. And I knew we had done everything we could, read every book, tried months of expert-led behavioral therapy. Worst of all, bedtimes were damaging my relationship with my child.

At our next visit, our psychiatrist affirmed that many of his patients took Melatonin daily to sleep. So with mixed emotions, we tried it. The very first night we saw a dramatic improvement. The child that regularly took an hour or more to fall asleep immediately lay down and slept. Quietly. With no fuss. Within three weeks she was sleeping 11 hours a night instead of 10 and her evening tantrums had dramatically decreased. I started being able to enjoy being around my child at bedtime.

Two years later we are still giving her Melatonin every night. Does she still need it? You bet she does. One night last week, I forgot to give it to her. She quietly played in her room for two hours. I didn’t even know she was awake until I went to check on her before going to bed myself at 10:30. At that point she was overtired, so it took her another hour to fall asleep after I gave her the Melatonin.

I’m not a doctor, so I would urge anyone who is considering using Melatonin to consult with their pediatrician first before trying it. I have heard that Melatonin can give some people nightmares, but that hasn’t been our experience. I do know that problems with sleep for children who have ADHD are not uncommon. Over at Café Mom’s ADHD support groups, you’ll frequently find mothers who are struggling with a child who can’t sleep and mothers who found Melatonin was the only thing that worked. For our family, I’d call it a life saver.


ADHD Resources

Symptoms of ADHD and ADD: and Family Doctor

Learn about Melatonin

Helpful books about ADHD


ADHD Support

CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

CafeMom (search ADHD)

Have your own ADHD story to share? Share it with us!

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