How to Fall Asleep With ADHD

Strategies for Overcoming ADHD Sleep Issues

Girl sleeping on bed in morning

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Sleep is important for your ability to focus and concentrate, mood, general health, and well-being. Unfortunately, many people with ADHD struggle with sleep issues, so they often do not get the sleep they need. It can take time and effort to learn how to fall asleep with ADHD.

Roughly 25% to 50% of people with ADHD also have sleep problems. As a result of poor sleep, ADHD symptoms can be worse during the day.

Fortunately, you can take steps to address sleep issues and get a better night's rest if you or your child have ADHD. These sleep strategies can help adults and children learn how to fall asleep with ADHD.

ADHD and Sleep Issues

Why is sleep often a problem for children and adults with ADHD? There are several challenges that can contribute to tossing and turning each night.

Lack of a Regular Schedule

People with ADHD struggle with symptoms like distractability and impulsivity, making it hard to stick to a regular schedule. This lack of predictability makes it difficult to get relaxed enough to drift off to sleep.

Sleep Disorders

It also is fairly common for people with ADHD to have co-occurring sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome (RLS).

Co-Occurring Disorders

People with ADHD may also have other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or substance use disorders that can also play a role in interrupting sleep.

Medications

ADHD is often treated with stimulant medications. While these can help relieve symptoms, they can also disrupt sleep, particularly if they are taken along with other stimulants such as coffee, tea, or soda.

ADHD-Friendly Bedtime Activities

There are several sleep strategies you can use to calm your ADHD mind to sleep. A simple, consistent, relaxing routine before bed helps prepare your body for sleep. Your bedtime routine might include activities like these.

  • Drinking a warm cup of tea: Many people find that a cup of warm chamomile or “sweet dreams” tea helps promote a good night’s sleep. Be sure to choose a tea that doesn't have caffeine.
  • Eating a light, nutritious snack: Too much food before bedtime can make sleep more difficult, but many people find that a light snack is helpful.
  • Having dedicated quiet time: Spending some quiet time before bed helps the brain wind down and prepare for sleep. Try quiet, focused crafts or play (for children); reading; listening to relaxing music or soothing outdoor sounds, like running water or crickets; relaxation and deep breathing exercises; visualization; and meditation.
  • Taking a warm shower or bath: Sometimes, simple things can be very effective. Having a bath or shower is relaxing and will help you to fall asleep.
  • Thinking positive thoughts. Though it may take some time to readjust your thinking, try to think “happy thoughts” at bedtime. Set aside worries and negative thoughts. Get into the habit of positive thinking before bed. Think of a favorite place, such as the beach. You might even play ocean sounds. Happy thoughts and good feelings can make it easier to drift off to sleep.
  • Aromatherapy: Some people find that using aromatherapy oil in a bath, compress, or diffuser helps them sleep, particularly scents like lavender, jasmine, and chamomile.

Sleep Disruptors

It's also important to identify and avoid substances and activities that can interfere with sleep. When you are learning how to fall asleep with ADHD, cut out these sleep-stealers.

Alcohol

Alcohol is often thought of as a sedative. Although it appears to induce sleep, sleep will be less restful and more disrupted. Alcohol increases how often you wake up at night and stops you from getting the deep sleep you need to feel rested in the morning. Alcohol is also a diuretic and can cause you to wake up several times to urinate.

Sugar

Avoid sugary foods and drinks late in the day. That extra initial energy boost from sugars can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Caffeine

Avoid caffeine for at least 4 hours before bedtime or even eliminate it completely. Caffeine is a diuretic, so you may be making several bathroom trips during the night if you’ve consumed caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine is also a stimulant, which can keep some people awake.

Nicotine

Not only is smoking harmful to your lungs, but nicotine may also make it more difficult to fall asleep and can result in disrupted sleep during the night.

Hyperfocused Activity

Even though it can be hard, do not begin an activity that you or your child will hyperfocus on as it can be very hard to disengage and go to bed. Both adults and children can hyperfocus when they are using their computers or mobile phone. Removing the TV, computer, and mobile phone from the bedroom helps.

Fall-Asleep Strategies for ADHD

All of the activities in the bedtime routine will help to prepare you for sleep. Some additional rituals can help you or your child fall asleep once you climb into bed.

  • Listen to an audiobook. A nice story can help children and adults wind down. Try listening in the dark with your eyes closed.
  • Prepare your sleep environment. Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to sleep—pillows and mattresses are comfortable, lights are dim, the temperature is cool (between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit), and it is quiet.
  • Read. Many people read a book or magazine to prepare for sleep. However, a gripping book may backfire and keep you turning the pages for hours. A magazine might be a safer choice as the articles are much shorter, no matter how interesting.
  • Set worries aside. Once your head hits the pillow, problems of the day can start racing through your mind, making sleep impossible. One way to stop this is to keep a pen and pad of paper by your bedside. Jot down your thoughts and worries and promise yourself you will address them in the morning.
  • Turn on some white noise. White noise is a gentle, steady, monotonous, peaceful sound like a fan humming or background sounds that are calming and not stimulating.
  • Use a transitional object. A soft, plush blanket or special, safe toy can help toddlers transition to bedtime. A simple transitional object can continue to be helpful for older children.

Practice Healthy Habits

In addition to preparing your mind to sleep, it is also important to use strategies that will help you stay asleep and get better quality rest each night. Implement these healthy habits to help facilitate healthy sleep.

  • Be patient with changes. Sleep issues make take some time to resolve, so be patient. Stick with your routine, and slowly but surely you will begin to experience the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Going to bed at a set time each night and waking up at a regular time each morning promotes better sleep. Your internal biological clock helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. Consistency helps keep that clock set right and ensures you get the adequate sleep you need.
  • Exercise. Physical activity promotes good health and overall well-being as well as good sleep. Vigorous exercise right before bed isn’t recommended, but numerous studies have found that regular exercise can improve sleep quality. Be sure to include lots of physical outdoor play for children who have ADHD.

Supplements That Promote Sleep

Some people find supplements can help with sleep. It is important that you consult with a healthcare provider before taking any supplements, as they may interact or interfere with other drugs you are taking.

Melatonin

This naturally occurring hormone is secreted by a part of the brain called the pineal gland. Melatonin helps to regulate sleep. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, and light suppresses it.

Melatonin can improve sleep onset and duration in children with ADHD and older adults. It can also be helpful for those who work rotating shifts or are dealing with jet lag.

L-Theanine

This is an amino acid found in green and black tea that seems to work against the effects of caffeine. Some people use it to reduce stress and promote relaxation. However, you could get its benefits by drinking tea earlier in the day (avoid caffeine in the evening).

One study found that L-theanine can help improve sleep quality in boys, ages 8 to 12, with ADHD.

Visit Your Doctor

While many sleep strategies can be implemented on your own, there are times when you need medical advice. For example, if you are having trouble sleeping, your doctor may:

  • Adjust medication times. An adjustment in your ADHD medication dosage or the time medication is taken may help make sleep a little easier.
  • Check iron levels. Some people with iron deficiency anemia experience restless leg syndrome (RLS), which can cause difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Evaluate you for sleep disorders. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or other medical issues may be causing or contributing to sleep problems.

A Word From Verywell

People with ADHD often experience sleep problems, which can make ADHD symptoms worse. If you or a loved one struggle with sleep problems due to ADHD, there are strategies that you can try that may help. Building good sleep habits, avoiding sleep disruptors, and practicing healthy habits that promote good sleep are just a few things you might try.

If you're still struggling, talk to your doctor. They can help you get to the bottom of your sleep issues, including making medication adjustments, recommending treatments, and suggesting other changes that might be helpful.

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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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