Little girl with ADHD and insomnia struggles to fall asleep while laying in bed.

There is nothing like waking up after a good night’s sleep. You feel rested, energized, and ready to take on the day! On the other hand, failing to get a good night’s rest can leave you feeling irritable, lethargic, and sleepy. Unfortunately, getting a full eight hours of sleep is something that adults and children alike struggle with–especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

So is there a connection between ADHD and insomnia, or is it an extremely common coincidence? This is the question that we will be tackling today. So if you are a parent of a child with ADHD and have noticed a pattern of poor sleeping habits or sleep disturbances, this article is for you!

Understanding ADHD and Insomnia

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Most children are usually diagnosed with ADHD at an early age when it becomes evident that their behavior is noticeably different from other children in their age group. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines ADHD as a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Early signs can include hyperactivity, impulsiveness, difficulty focusing or paying attention to things, and restlessness or sleeplessness. Insomnia is a sleep disorder defined by trouble falling and/or staying asleep throughout the night. The sleep condition can be diagnosed as acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) and may come and go.

There are two main types of insomnia:

  • Primary insomnia refers to sleep disturbances that occur on their own and is not linked to any other health condition. 
  • Secondary Insomnia means that sleep issues are likely caused by a health condition (depression, anxiety, pain, asthma, acid reflux, ADHD, medications, etc.)

Other types of insomnia include: behavioral, paradoxical, mixed, sleep-onset, and sleep-maintenance.

Is There A Connection?

Now that we have looked at each condition individually, let’s discuss the evidence and studies that have been published, regarding the possible connection between sleep disturbances and ADHD.

At first glance, many parents think that the relationship between ADHD and insomnia may be the result or side effect of ADHD medications–most of which are stimulants. And while this may very well be the reason that medicated children struggle with sleeping habits, it doesn’t explain why unmedicated individuals with ADHD also struggle with various types of insomnia.

Most studies on the subject suggest that ADHD can cause difficulty sleeping, which can create a challenging cycle for children and parents. According to research, behavioral insomnia may be the most common cause of sleep issues in children with ADHD. So what does that mean? Well, behavioral insomnia refers to sleep disturbances that are caused by bedtime behaviors or routines/habits and not medication. This type of insomnia can cause children to resist sleep, wake up throughout the night, or require additional assistance from their parents to fall asleep.

Additionally, insomnia is not something that a child with ADHD may grow out of because it is just as common for adults with ADHD to live with sleep disorders. One study found that 66.8% of adults with ADHD also experience insomnia, compared with 28.8% of adults without ADHD.

How To Help

Adequate sleep and rest is essential for cognitive function and development, so Ignoring your child’s sleep struggles or thinking they will go away on their own is not an option for most parents. Luckily, there are many ways to help kids fall asleep more easily.

  • Establish a healthy sleep environment - It’s important for children to feel comfortable and relaxed before falling asleep so establishing a healthy sleep environment is crucial. Remove ipads, tablets, phones, or any other electronics. If your child is used to the TV being (for light or sound) consider a nightlight and/or white noise machine. 
  • Maintain a consistent nighttime routine - Creating and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine isn’t just for school nights. Setting and following bedtimes and even pre-bed routines can greatly improve sleep habits. 
  • Encourage physical activities throughout the day - You can help your child fall asleep more easily by changing daytime habits as well. Make sure that your child is getting enough exercise throughout the day (but not too close to bedtime). 
  • Focus on nutrition - Making sure that your child is getting their nutrients may also help to promote a better night’s rest. You can try reducing or eliminating the amount of caffeine or sugar that your child consumes (sodas, chocolate, iced tea, etc.) 
  • Consider health or nutritional supplements - Getting your children to make healthier options isn’t always easy. If you are finding it difficult to ensure that your child is getting receiving essential nutrients that would typically come from food, supplements may be the best option. At Simple Spectrum, we have two incredible supplements that parents swear by!
    • Nutritional Support Supplement: This supplement was designed to support the nutritional needs of the developing nervous system in children by addressing potential dietary deficiencies.
    • Omega-3 DHA Supplement: This supplement was designed for cognitive support for the developing brain and nervous system. Clinical research suggests that DHA is critically important for numerous bodily functions, especially inflammation.

There are instances when a child may experience a more severe form of insomnia that may cause disruptions at home or school. If this is the case and they do not seem to be responding to behavioral changes, it may be time to speak with your pediatrician. A doctor who is experienced with ADHD in children may be able to offer additional advice or even adjust medications or prescribe new ones.