During the day, we are working overtime to ensure our young children are safe and happy. We have electrical outlet covers, we’ve removed anything remotely dangerous (and potentially enticing) from surfaces below 5 feet, and we have carefully crafted routines and schedules to keep our busy kids entertained and out of trouble.
It can also be helpful to consider your child’s nighttime routine, sleep habits, and relaxation needs to help induce calm during the day.
Look for Signs of Possible Sleep Deprivation
We are learning more about how sleep deprivation can manifest itself in our kids’ behaviour. Rather than causing sluggishness and fatigue, sleep deprivation can actually mimic and amplify the typical symptoms of ADHD. Things like procrastination, forgetfulness, hyperactivity, a propensity to lose things, and the inability to pay attention consistently might be increased when our children are not sleeping consistently well.
Consider your child’s sleep needs
To address sleep issues, first educate yourself about how much sleep your child needs based on their age. You can speak with your doctor if you are unsure. Further, consider what amount of sleep your child needs to be at their best – you’ll know this by observation! It might be more than what conventional wisdom or your doctor tells you. Speak with your child about their sleep routine, as well as their sleep environment. Needs and preferences will be different for all kids, so try and make changes that are feasible and helpful for them. Some children need nightlights, some prefer doors open, others closed etc.
Reduce stimulating activities before bed
Now it’s time to help your child with techniques to help fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to start unwinding and avoiding stimulating activities 90 minutes before bed. Stimulating activities refer to video games, television and mobile devices particularly when held close to the eyes. We are learning that our circadian rhythms – what tells us when to be awake and when to sleep - are affected by the use of screens. (If you're using Brili on a tablet to help with the bedtime routine, it's fine to stand the tablet someplace in the room where your child can see it, but avoid using tablet game or movie time as a reward when he or she is ready for bed.) Make bedtime reading part of your routine, and use good old fashioned books… you remember those, right?
Relaxation and Mindfulness
A quick web search about mindfulness and relaxation will tell you the power that these strategies can have on all of us; especially those who tend towards high anxiety, stress, or attention challenges. Mindfulness activities can be used any time, but they are especially helpful at bedtime. Here are a few kid-friendly activities to try:
Imagine that your body is a big tall building and you need to get the people on the elevator from the bottom (your toes) all the way to the top (your head). Take a deep breath and imagine the elevator travelling slowly past each floor until it reaches the top floor. Pause, and allow the people to get out of the elevator. Now exhale and bring the elevator all the way back down, pause to allow more people to get into the elevator and repeat.
Have your child choose a colour that they like to represent calm, relaxed, happy feelings, and a colour they do not like to represent negativity, intrusive thoughts, or frustration; anything they want less of. When you inhale, imagine that you are taking in all of that beautiful colour. It travels throughout your lungs, your arms, all the way to your feet, and fills you with positive feelings. When you exhale, visualize yourself breathing out the bad colour. Imagine that you are breathing out so far that the colourful breath is travelling away from you as far as you can. Repeat.
The Mind/Body Connection
Studies show that children with ADHD benefit greatly from strategies aimed at improving their mind/body connection. Help them to notice how body parts are feeling, and to bring their awareness to each body part through progressive relaxation exercises. You can find a number of free resources online relating to guided progressive relaxation and mediation exercises.
What strategies have you used to help improve your child’s sleep routine?