Almost every parent I’ve ever talked to who has a child with ADHD has told me their child has some form of a sleep problem.
Either the child takes several hours to fall asleep, tosses and turns all night, only sleeps a few hours each night, or isn’t able to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up.
Sleep disorders caused by ADHD (or in association with ADHD) are a very real thing.
In fact, studies show that adolescents with ADHD are sometimes misdiagnosed with Narcolepsy, Sleep Apnea, or Restless Leg Syndrome because they struggle with sleeping so much. A huge percentage of these adolescents report being exhausted all day, but then wide awake all night.
Some of the parents of these kids even report that their child is impossible to wake up in the mornings. Does this sound like what you’re going through?
Nearly every parent I talked to also stated that their child’s ADHD symptoms became even worse when they don’t get enough sleep. And, as you can tell, for a lot of families, that’s almost every night.
In a sense, the problem is cyclic and self-sustaining.
Some doctors seem to think smaller prefrontal cortexes are to blame. As I stated in my most recent post, “The Physical Differences of an ADHD Brain,” people with ADHD usually have slightly smaller frontal cortexes in their brains, which affects their ability to function in certain areas.
Here’s a picture of which area of the brain is affected by ADHD:
(Image courtesy of “ADHD & You”)
When the frontal cortex is smaller than usual, there becomes a deficit in behavior, judgement, emotional response, and ability to pay attention. Unsurprisingly, the frontal cortex also controls motor function. With less control over motor functions, there’s more difficulty staying still.
See how those things could make sleep difficult?
ADHD adolescents often report being exhausted all day (even falling asleep in a conversation with someone), but then being wide awake as soon as they crawl into bed at night. They involuntarily stay up all night, which makes them exhausted the next day, which, in turn, exacerbates their ADHD symptoms.
They also report feeling “squirmy” throughout the night. They have a hard time lying still, not turning over frequently, and keeping their legs in one place. (This could be where the misdiagnoses of RLS come in.)
My nephew, who is five years old and has ADHD, sleeps (on average) four hours per night. He struggles to calm down and go to sleep at night, even with a structured routine that hasn’t changed in three years. He rolls over a lot while he’s asleep. He also wakes up after four hours of sleep and is ready to attack the day.
He doesn’t nap… which means his exhausted mom doesn’t get to nap… which means his little sister gets a sleepy mom and a crabby bother… and the entire family feels like they’re at war with ADHD.
Can you imagine having a child who only slept four hours each night, every night, for months and months on end?
I know what you’re thinking. Eventually, he would have to crash and sleep a ton, right?
Not necessarily. My nephew (just to use him as an example) goes through these periods of inability to sleep for months at a time, only getting tiny, brief glimpses into what “catching up” feels like.
Another friend I have, who has an older child with ADHD, says that her son still has a hard time sleeping, even though he’s on medication to treat his ADHD. Sleep problems are a very real problem for adolescents with ADHD.
This perpetual lack of sleep can lead to even more difficulties in the classroom, inability to drive/function safely (teens), bodily impairment, and struggles with maintaining some form of control over their ADHD symptoms.
Do you know a child/teen with ADHD who suffers from sleeping issues?
If so, have they sought treatment by a medical professional?
If not, how do they manage their sleep disturbances without medication? Have you found natural ways to help relieve some of these issues?
We really, truly want to know what all of you have been through or are going through. If people are open about their experiences, we can connect families who are going through similar scenarios and hopefully help both people learn better ways to cope.
If you have any success stories about sleeping and ADHD, please tell us!
If you have any frustrations, concerns, or just need to vent… tell us that, too. Everyone loves to read personal stories that relate to their own lives. We love knowing we’re not going through tough seasons alone.