ADHD Bedtime Routine: Finding a Nightly Wind-Down for an ADHD Mind

ADHD Bedtime Routine

Getting adequate sleep is important for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). An estimated 50-80% of children and 30-70% of adults with ADHD experience sleep problems compared to 9-50% of kids and 10-40% of adults without ADHD, according to research summarized on the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) site.

Luckily, developing consistent pre-bed habits can make falling asleep easier for ADHD brains. Whether you or a loved one has ADHD, in this blog post, we will share tips on crafting an ADHD-friendly evening routine.

ADHD and Sleep: The Science

Several factors can contribute to common sleep issues among the ADHD population, explains the experts at the Cleveland Clinic site:

  • Difficulty transitioning between activities: Shifting gears can be hard when you have ADHD, making moving from active tasks to calm relaxation a struggle. Kids may put off going to bed through repeated stalling tactics, too.
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity: Common ADHD symptoms don’t simply fade at bedtime. Thoughts might continue racing while excessive movement or fidgeting keeps the body stimulated.
  • Time blindness: Many people with ADHD struggle with time awareness and self-regulation. Without structure, they may lose track of time and not allow enough wind-down before bed.
  • Circadian rhythm abnormalities: Research hints at a possible connection between ADHD and irregular cycles of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Medication types/timing: While stimulants help manage ADHD symptoms, the effects can delay sleep onset if taken too late in the day.

Lavender essential oil diffuser on bedside table: Lavender oil diffuser on nightstand as calming bedtime sensory cue

Creating Consistent Sleep Cues for ADHD Brains

Behavioral sleep interventions aim to reinforce the natural sleep-wake cycle by exposing the brain to specific cues tied to going to bed and waking up. An analysis in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep found moderate evidence supporting certain non-drug therapies for sleep issues in ADHD, including:

  • Fixed sleep schedules with consistent bed/wake times, even on weekends
  • Soothing pre-bedtime rituals
  • Removing electronics before bed
  • Daily exercise but not too close to bedtime

Let’s explore tips across these key areas to design an ADHD bedtime routine focused on establishing helpful sensory cues.

1. Set a Technology Curfew

Today’s world offers endless digital distraction right at our fingertips – problematic when trying to get an ADHD brain to power down for sleep.

Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that kids’ ADHD symptoms negatively affected their sleep quality, which was further worsened by evening screen use .

Experts suggest turning off all electronics at least one hour before the target bedtime. This technology curfew allows the brain time to unwind and release stimulatory blue light exposure from phones, computers and TVs.

Building in tech-free activities makes it easier for kids and adults alike to detach at night. The key is replacing digital entertainment with another calming ritual.

2. Incorporate Soothing Sensory Experiences

Since ADHD minds don’t easily shift gears, we need to incorporate sensory cues that tell the body it’s time for bed.

The site How To ADHD recommends making the last hour before bed “boring on purpose”  by choosing activities requiring little mental energy. Drawing, coloring, stretching or journaling are ideal options.

When crafting an ADHD-friendly routine, also consider sensory sensitivities. For those with sensory processing issues, auditory, tactile or visual stimuli can prove distracting rather than calming. Notice what types of sensations do or don’t work before, during and after the wind-down period.

The right pajamas may help kids feel cozy and ready for bed while weighted blankets offer comforting pressure. Or an auditory soother like peaceful nature sounds, soft music or a white noise machine could help quiet the mind. Experiment to determine the best fit for each unique individual.

But steer clear of overstimulation too close to bed from activities like chase games or dramatically exciting stories. High energy right before lying down makes it harder for young bodies to relax.

Analog clock next to child's bed: Analog clock with bedtime labeled for ADHD time awareness help

3. Use Transitional Cues

Routine aids ADHD brains by setting clear expectations. Subtle sensory transitions signal to the mind and body that it’s time to unwind.

For example, diffusing a calming essential oil like lavender during the routine helps the brain associate the scent with sleep. Using products consistently, whether it’s a particular lotion after bathing or a comfort object when snuggling into bed, can solidify the sleep connection through sensory memory.

4. Establish a Regular Bedtime

While occasional exceptions happen, sticking to a regular target bedtime is key. Research shows large night-to-night fluctuations in sleep schedules negatively affect concentration, mood and behavior the next day for children with ADHD more than kids without it.

Set an age-appropriate bedtime allowing for needed hours of shut-eye. Then strive to hit that target more often than not, even on weekends, scheduling calming activities leading up to lights out.

Adding visual cues like an analog clock in a child’s room helps reinforce the passage of time as bedtime grows closer. Or utilize digital aids like the TimeTimer app that allows kids to visualize winding down the hour while self-regulating through the process .

5. Fold in Daily Movement

Along with an electronics curfew and soothing sensory cues, sufficient physical activity helps signal the brain that nighttime’s coming.

Research summarized by the ADHD Institute shows exercise leads to improved sleep quality for many children with ADHD. However, the ideal timing varies by individual as getting the activation-relaxation balance right proves essential.

Some folks simply sleep better after moving our bodies during the day. But if an evening basketball game or trampoline workout leaves your child still bouncing off the walls at bedtime, shift vigorous activity to afternoon hours instead.

6. Putting Together Your ADHD Bedtime Puzzle Pieces

While research supports certain sleep-promoting techniques among the ADHD population, no one-size-fits-all solution exists. Pulling together an effective routine relies on experimenting to discover what specifically calms your spirited child or your own overactive mind.

Start with the baseline of a set technology curfew and bedtime. Then incorporate various sensory tools tailored to your needs – maybe certain aromas, low lighting plus mindless activities provoke relaxation. Fold in transitional objects that cue your body to start producing melatonin.

And don’t forget the importance of daytime habits as well. Movement, medication management and mental focus during school or work hours set you up for better sleep during your ADHD bedtime routine.

Consistent Pre-Bed Habits Lead to More Restful Nights

While ADHD poses some sleep challenges, you can take steps to set your body’s internal clock for better bedtime success. Establish structure through a regular routine while letting soothing sensory experiences signal to your mind that calm-down time has arrived.

Over weeks of sticking to these new habits, falling asleep can start to feel easier. And a well-rested body and brain makes all the difference when living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

So start piecing together the components tonight for a more peaceful tomorrow. For additional guidance in building healthy ADHD sleep habits for you or your child, connect with an ADHD specialist or sleep professional.