ADHD and Sleep Issues? Try a little R.E.S.T.

shutterstock_91697660Think back to those all-nighters you pulled in college, cramming for exams. While you might have survived the test, imagine if you’d been graded on your performance throughout the rest of that day. Chances are you wouldn’t have fared too well.

Yet that’s what we do to our kids at school. Sleep issues are very common in children and adults with ADHD –and while ideally, we’d let kids come to school when they’re well rested, society just isn’t structured to accommodate everyone’s need for a good night’s sleep.

There are, however, strategies you can use to greatly improve your child’s chances of arriving at school rested.  And REST is the key word to remember.

R.E.S.T. =  Routine, Exercise, Stimulation, and Talk


Have a set bedtime so your child’s body becomes accustomed to going to bed at a specific time. If bedtime is 9pm, start the routine about an hour earlier. This could include having your child make himself lunch, laying out clothes for the next day, showering, watching a quiet program together, reading, or even just chatting about the day. My own children have been known to settle down with a cup of herbal tea. Whatever works—do it. And do it consistently.


Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of sleep.  And it doesn’t take much.  As little as 30 minutes of outdoor play, instead of screen time, allows kids to blow off excess energy, and it’s really good for them. Just a walk around the block after dinner can help.  The current research shows that any movement whatsoever is superior to no movement at all in helping both sleep and mood.

Stop the Stimulation

Turn off all electronics an hour or more before bedtime and keep electronics out of the bedroom. Avoid food or drinks with sugar or caffeine throughout the day, and dim lights wherever possible. I know. Impossible, right? Then start with one strategy, or start the routine 30 minutes before bedtime. Be creative!

Talk with Your Kids

Talk through their day with them. Ask questions that require specific answers. How was your day, as we all know, is a conversation killer. Ask who they sat with at lunch, what they ate, or if they liked the sandwich you made. Ask them about their least favorite class. Ask them what they love about their favorite video game. Talking with an adult helps kids process feelings about their day and calms concerns that can keep their minds racing … and their eyes open.

A sleep journal can help you track what’s working and what’s not. If your child has a good night’s sleep and the morning goes well, write down everything that happened the day before and try to repeat it.

Most importantly, don’t give up. There will be nights when your child just has a bad night’s sleep and no amount of journal keeping or clever strategies from well-intended special education
teachers will help. That’s okay, too.

Every day is a new day. Keep striving for REST.

Larry O’Brien has a Masters in Special Education from Vanderbilt University. He has been teaching at Benton Hall Academy since 1998.