Alternative Treatments for ADHD

I’ve covered why you should get your child evaluated for learning and behavior issues, who does the evaluations, and what the evaluation process involves in my previous posts. I’ve also covered specific diets and supplements. Today I want to talk about alternative treatments for ADHD. If parents aren’t ready to use medicines yet or if they want to supplement medications with additional treatments, there are many alternatives.

Natural treatments, psychological and occupational therapies, and complementary alternative therapy for the treatment of ADHD are available. Some of these are more effective than others.

Alternative Treatments

Nutritionalternative treatments for ADHD

Nutrition is very important for learning and behavior in all kids, not just those with a diagnosis of some sort. My next blog will be dedicated to more on components of nutrition and elimination diets, then the following blog will cover vitamins and supplements.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a way to change thinking from negative to positive and focuses on finding solutions to current problems. It has been proven to be effective in the treatment of ADHD.

The first treatment for ADHD in children under 5 years should be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed therapist trained in this area.

CBT can help those of all ages learn techniques to control behaviors, screen thoughts before speaking, organize things, and more.

Studies show that the best benefits for ADHD are a combination of medication and CBT for those over 5 years of age.

Child or parent training

Parent skills training provides parents with tools and techniques for managing their child’s behavior. Behavior therapy rewards appropriate behavior and discourages destructive behavior.

This training has been shown to improve ADHD symptoms among children, but studies show it does not change academic performance when used alone.

social skills group

Many kids with ADHD struggle socially. They tend to lag behind peers by a few years developmentally. Their impulsivity and inattention leads to poor behavior and trouble making good friends. They may also have trouble managing their emotions.

Joining a professionally run social skills group can help kids learn and practice important skills for interacting with others. Some school counselors can do this during school hours and many therapists offer groups outside of school.

School resources

Schools have various abilities in helping kids with unique needs. They can offer special seating (or standing desks), extra time for tests, fidget items, and other accommodations. To learn more about school resources, Understood.org has much needed information about what is available and what you can do to legally get accommodations with IEPs or 504Plans.

Exercise

Getting kids outside and moving has many benefits for all kids – including those with ADHD.

First, they are off all screens, which have been shown to increase aggressiveness and impulsivity.

Second, they are getting exercise. Studies show that when kids play outside their focus, attention, and behavior improve.

Exercise helps to elevate the same neurotransmitters that are increased with stimulant medications, which helps with executive functioning skills (sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention).

Any exercise helps, but studies show the best are martial arts, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics, yoga, rock climbing, mountain biking, skateboarding, and whitewater paddling (I know not all of these are practical on a regular basis, but most are). These activities require sustaining attention, balance, timing, fine motor adjustments, sequencing, evaluating consequences, error correction, and inhibition.

Sleep

Sleep problems are common in many children, especially those with ADHD. Fixing the sleep cycle can have extreme benefits in learning and behavior.

Sometimes it’s as easy as getting a routine for sleep to ensure the proper number of hours for a child, but often they suffer from insomnia, nightmares, sleep apnea, restless leg, or other medical conditions that impair sleep time and/or quality.

Symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation in kids are hyperactivity, poor focus, and irritability. There are many kids who can have all of their ADHD symptoms relieved when they simply get better sleep. I see this in many teens who suddenly “develop ADHD”- only it’s really not ADHD at all. They are running on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. If your child has sleep troubles not improved with these Sleep Tips, talk to your child’s doctor.

Occupational Therapy and Sensory Training

There are many kids with ADHD who benefit from using techniques that occupational therapists use with sensory processing disorder (SPD). In some kids, SPD might be the real diagnosis causing symptoms of ADHD, but in others they may co-exist.

Treating SPD is usually fun for the kids, and there is no harm in doing their techniques even if a child doesn’t have the disorder.

Schools have started integrating these ideas into their classrooms as needed, such as having kids sit on stability balls or using tactile objects at their desks.

Therapy for SPD involves playing in ways that use sensory input (such as with sand or play doh, rolling down a hill, manipulating tactile objects, and more).

For a great list of ideas visit Sensory Integration Activities, but working with an occupational therapist is recommended.


Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

Biofeedback and neurofeedback are often not covered by insurance due to inconclusive evidence that they work. Children and adults with ADHD often have abnormal patterns of brain electrical activity on electroencephalographic (EEG) testing. EEG biofeedback is aimed at normalizing EEG activity by correcting the brain’s state of relative under-arousal and optimizing cognitive and behavioral functioning.

Neurofeedback trains kids to become more aware of their physiological responses and improve their executive functioning. Each neurofeedback session lasts 30-60 min and children usually need 10-20 sessions. Patients wear a cap that measures their brain activities, and it helps them train their brain to maintain focus during video games specific to this purpose.

The significance of most findings on neurofeedback and EEG biofeedback is limited by study design flaws that include small study sizes, heterogeneous populations, absence of a control group, inconsistent outcome measures, self-selection bias, and limited or no long-term follow-up. While this doesn’t mean they don’t work, I would like to see more studies showing their benefit. You might invest a lot of time and money only to find out it doesn’t work.

Working memory training

Working memory training has been shown in studies to help with symptoms of ADHD, though there are some conflicting studies out there.

Cogmed is the company that has studies showing benefit. It’s a computer program that kids play like a video game, but it reportedly trains their brain to remember things. Cogmed is intensive: 1 hour a day, 5 days a week for 5 weeks, but can be done at home. It can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance. About 70-80% of children show improvement immediately after the training, and of those who improved, 80% maintained the benefit over a 6 – 12 month window. Cogmed is designed to be used with medication, such as stimulants.

Herbs and other supplements

There are some studies supporting nutritional supplements or herbal medicines for ADHD, but many reported treatments have not been found effective. I will cover these in a separate blog.

ADHD Coaching

Just like anyone who needs help improving a skill, working with a coach with experience helping others in that area can be a big help.

Working with an ADHD coach can help many with certain aspects of their life. ADHD coaches can help with organization, motivate a person with ADHD to finish tasks, or help them learn techniques that makes them more effective at life skills.

Coaches do not do psychotherapy or counseling. This can be beneficial for people who are against therapy but need help to improve their skills.

It does not work if the parent makes the child go. The child must be motivated to make changes in his or her life and be willing to work on things, then coaching can be great.

Tips on finding an ADHD coach can be found on PsychCentral.

Mindfulness

I recommend mindfulness for many issues, especially anxiety (which often co-exists with ADHD). Mindfulness is thought to help with ADHD as well. It is a process of being focused on the present moment and is more fully explained on Understood.org’s Mindfulness page.

There are many free apps that can help kids (and adults) learn mindfulness.

No evidence exists for these treatments

There are many alternative treatments out there that do not have scientific proof that they help. Many parents try these treatment programs in hope that their child’s symptoms will go away.

In general, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t be fooled into thinking “alternative” or “natural” treatments are without risk. There are always risks, including the lost time not being on a proven therapy, leading to a child falling further behind academically and suffering emotionally from symptoms related to ADHD.

“Train the brain” games 

There are claims that games designed to train the brain can improve memory, attention and other skills, but there is no research that supports this claim. Kids may get good at playing the game and seem to learn, but studies have found no improvements that generalize to their daily life or learning. For more, see what experts say about “train the brain games” for kids with ADHD.

Brain Balance has a center in our city, and I’ve seen more than a few parents who waste time and money on their program. I don’t know of any that noted significant and continued benefit. Although their website might look like there’s impressive evidence to use it, there really isn’t. Please see Science Based Medicine: Brain Balance for more information.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant but since it is available from grocery stores instead of pharmacies some parents feel more comfortable using it instead of a medication.

If you’re using it as a drug, it is a drug.

Whether it comes in a beverage or a pill, it is a chemical with properties that act like other drugs in our bodies.

Unfortunately studies don’t really support its use. It’s difficult to dose since it comes in so many forms, and most people develop a tolerance for it, requiring more and more, which can increase side effects.

For details, see Science Based Medicine: Caffeine for ADHD.

chiropractic medicine, Vision therapy, and Applied kinesiology

I have not been able to find any valid scientific studies for chiropractic medicine, vision training, and applied kinesiology for the treatment of ADHD.

Insurance usually does not cover these and they can be quite expensive. I do not recommend them.

Essential oils and aromatherapy

Essential oils are all the rage now. It seems they can cure everything if you do a quick online search. The problem is that research hasn’t shown that to be true. Dr. Chad Hayes does a good job of discussing what they are and why they aren’t recommended.

Remember…

There is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t work. ~ Richard Dawkins

If it stays alternative, that must say something. Once an alternative treatment is shown to work, it becomes a preferred treatment, no longer an alternative…

Things to consider when choosing treatment plans:

  • First, be sure your child is properly assessed to make the best diagnosis on which to base the treatment plan.
  • Natural isn’t necessarily safe. Evaluate all the risks and benefits known before making a decision. Even exercise (which is always recommended) comes with risks, such as injury and at times sleep problems due to scheduled activity times.
  • Talk with your doctor about any treatments you are doing with your child. Don’t forget to mention vitamins, supplements, herbs, brain training, therapies, etc.
  • Choosing one treatment doesn’t mean you are married to it. If response doesn’t prove to be beneficial, re-think your approach.
  • There is no cure for ADHD known at this time. If someone claims that they can cure your child, don’t buy into it.
  • Learn your costs. Does insurance cover it? Insurance companies often prefer certain treatments due to their cost and other factors. They also do not cover many treatments. Sometimes this is again due to cost, but other times it is because there is no evidence to show the treatment is effective. (Hint: This is a good clue to look at other treatments!)
  • Is the treatment something your child can do and is your family willing to put in the time? CBT is proven to help, but it doesn’t work if the child and parents don’t work on the techniques at home. Neurofeedback and Cogmed take many hours of treatment over weeks of time and are not guaranteed to work in all children.  Medications must be titrated to find the most effective dose that limits side effects. This requires frequent follow up with your doctor until the best dose is found.

Sources:

The ADDitude Guide to Alternative ADHD Treatment

WebMD: Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder: Alternative Treatments 

American Psychological Association: Easing ADHD Without Meds
Psych Central: Neurofeedback Therapy an Effective, Non-Drug Treatment for ADHD

Psychiatric Times: Integrative Management of ADHD: What the Evidence Suggests

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Diagnosis and Treatment in Children and Adolescents


 

Looking for more?

Many parents benefit from support groups to learn from others who have gone through or are currently going through similar situations, fears, failures, and successes. Find one in your area that might help you go through the process with others who share your concerns. If you know of a support group that deserves mention, please share!

ADHD

CHADD is the nationwide support group that offers a lot online and has many local chapters, such as ADHDKC. I am a volunteer board member of ADHDKC and have been impressed with the impact they have made in our community in the short time they have existed (established in 2012). I encourage parents to attend their free informational meetings. The speakers have all been fantastic and there are many more great topics coming up!

Anxiety

Many parents are surprised to learn how much anxiety can affect behavior and learning. To look for local support groups, check out the tool on Psychology Today.

Autism

The Autism Society has an extensive list of resources.

Dyslexia 

Dyslexia Help is designed to help dyslexics, parents, and professionals find the resources they need, from scholarly articles and reviewed books to online forums and support groups.

Learning Disabilities 

Learning Disabilities Association of America offers support groups as well as information to help understand learning disabilities, negotiating the special education process, and helping your child and yourself.

Tourette’s Syndrome and Tic Disorders 

Tourette’s Syndrome Association is a great resource for people with tic disorders.

General Support Group List 

For a list of many support groups in Kansas: Support Groups in Kansas .

School information

Choosing schools for kids with ADHD and learning differences isn’t always possible, but look to the linked articles on ways to decide what might work best for your child. When choosing colleges, look specifically for programs they offer for students who learn differently and plan ahead to get your teen ready for this challenge.

Midwest ADHD Conference – April 2018

Check out the Midwest ADHD Conference coming to the KC area in April, 2018. I’m involved in the planning stages and it will be a FANTASTIC conference for parents, adults with ADHD, and educators/teachers.

Midwest ADHD Conference
The Midwest ADHD Conference will be held in April 2018, in Overland Park, Kansas.


Share Quest for Health

Sleep Tricks

I preach about sleep to kids all the time, both at the office and at home. It’s one of my three most important things for overall health along with eating nutritious foods and daily exercise. Most of us don’t get enough sleep. Here are some tricks to get in a few extra minutes each day… they all add up!

Most of these tips are appropriate not only for kids and teens, but also for their parents! In November I wrote about the problems I often see with teen sleep deprivation specifically.

Know how much sleep is typical for every age group.

A great infographic of this is found at the Sleep Foundation.

Warning: It shows generalizations. For example, when tweens and teens go through a growth spurt many need 10-11 hours of sleep per night, which is more than the graph shows.

Just remember that individuals are just that: individual.

Think of sleep as a currency.

We can go into sleep debt when we don’t get enough. If it’s just a little loss of sleep, it’s easy to catch up and pay back the debt. The further into debt you go, the harder it is to get out of debt.

Don’t let the bank come after you in terms of health problems!


Listen to your body and teach kids to listen to their needs.

If you’re tired, you need more sleep. It’s sometimes easy to recognize but not always. Some kids are notoriously not able to do this well.

The longer you stay up, the harder it will be to fall asleep. It’s ironic, but sleep deprivation leads to insomnia. If you suffer, try to allow extra zzz’s on a weekend to fill the deficit. But don’t let the sleep deprived person sleep in so late that he can’t go to bed on time that night.

Many parents have realized that the later the kids stay up, the earlier they wake. Despite waking early, they didn’t get enough sleep. Behavior shows that they’re tired when they don’t sleep enough – you might see whining, tears, frustration, and irritability when this happens.

Many kids get hyper when they’re tired, so don’t be fooled if they have lots of energy in the evening. If they don’t wake easily in the morning or are whiney during the day, they are tired!

Routines.

Go to bed and get up at the same times every night and morning. If you let your kids stay up later on a weekend, be sure it isn’t more than 2 hours past their ideal bedtime.

Remember that going to bed just 15 minutes late each weeknight gives over an hour less sleep during the week – it all adds up!

Resetting the internal clock.

If someone has a hard time getting up, have them get natural sunlight as soon as possible in the morning. It helps set the circadian rhythm. If you can’t get natural sunlight, turn on lights in your home.

Conversely, start turning down lights a few hours before bedtime. Avoid screens (tv, computers, smart phones). Lights keep you from feeling tired. Don’t let them keep you up!

Use a night mode on a screen if you must work online prior to bed – a common problem for teens who have homework these days. I have used a free app called f.lux with great success. I can tell the difference in tiredness and ability to fall asleep when I have this active on my computer.

Winding down.

There are many ways to wind down before climbing into bed.

  • Journal before bed if thoughts keep you awake. People who spend bedtime thinking about everything can’t sleep. Jot a few things down to give yourself permission to not think anymore. Sounds weird, but this “worry list” works for many people!
  • Coloring is another way to relax. It’s not just for kids anymore!
  • Learn meditation. There are many apps available for smartphones and tablets, just do a search in your store. I refer kids to Stop, Think, & Breathe often. There’s also an adult version. I have many of these apps (mostly free) on my Mindfulness Pinterest Page.
  • Belly Breathing is very effective and can be taught to kids. Some kids will put a stuffed animal on their tummy and try to raise the animal with a slow, deep breath.
  • Set the mood in the room: darken the room, get the temperature “just right”, and find the number of blankets that helps you sleep. Setting up a fan or other white noise maker helps many people sleep. For more tips on setting up the perfect room for sleeping, see Bedroom.
  • Weighted blankets have been shown to help many people, especially those with anxiety fall asleep faster but there is a concern about safety when used by kids.
  • Listen to Weightless – music that’s been shown to help initiate sleep.
  • Reading at bedtime can be a great relaxing thing, but if you have a page turner, be careful to not get caught up in the book for hours. I find that stopping at a lull mid-chapter is better than waiting until the end of a chapter. A good author leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter and begging for more! Set a time limit and stop reading when time’s up! That’s what bookmarks are for.
  • Take a warm bath. This can help relax you for a good night’s rest.
  • Ask a family member to give you a massage or back rub. Again, a great way to relax!
  • Warm milk or herbal teas might help some sleep.
Be active during the day.

Lounging around makes you feel more tired during the day, but it’s then harder to fall to sleep at night.

Experts recommend avoiding exercise for a few hours before bedtime, but I know that is really hard for kids in sports. I don’t have a great fix for that, unfortunately.

Skip the snooze.

Kids and their parents who hit snooze several times miss out on all that sleep that they are in a half awake zone. If you really don’t need to get up until the 3rd snooze time, set the alarm for that time. You will be more well rested so it will be easier to get up immediately. Train your body (or your kids) to get up at that time. After several days of an extra few minutes of sleep, you’ll notice the difference!

Kids sleep alone.

Keep kids out of the parent bed so everyone gets the best sleep. Snoring, different bedtime, and other body movements makes it hard to sleep together. No one sleeps well, which makes everyone grumpy the next day.

If kids are anxious about sleeping in their own room, see The Most Common Reasons Why Kids Are Afraid To Sleep.

Pets

Pets can either help an anxious child calm down and sleep or can keep kids awake. Know the situation and act accordingly.

If pets make noise or try to wake their person, they should not be in the bedroom at night.

If the pet is quiet and lets kids sleep, they can provide reassurance to a child who doesn’t like being alone. But be sure they don’t wake the child!

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that’s made in our body and helps us feel tired. It’s also available as a supplement. I think that if other sleep techniques fail it can be a great sleep aid, but I also think that if you’re going to give it to your child you should talk to his physician first.

Dr. Craig Canapari is a pediatric sleep expert who has written a great deal on how melatonin works, when it would be appropriate to try it, what concerns there are regarding melatonin, and more. Check out his Melatonin Guide for Parents.

Avoid Caffeine

Most of us know that caffeine will help wake us up, but many think they can drink it later in the day and it doesn’t affect their sleep. Dr. Melissa Welby has a great blog on how caffeine works and what it does to our sleep cycle.

Don’t be fooled with hidden sources of caffeine. I have occasionally gotten ice cream with coffee for a family bedtime treat, only to find out upon tasting it that it had coffee. Caffeine is often added to drinks, so read labels. But be careful! It might not say caffeine directly. Some are labeled as “guarana” — a plant with caffeine. Pretty much anything that is labeled as an energy drink (or food) is a likely culprit. Even decaf coffee has a small amount. Chocolate naturally has caffeine… the darker the chocolate the higher the caffeine content. Some pain relievers and other medicines have caffeine.

Especially for those not accustomed to caffeine, it will disrupt sleep even if taken several hours before bedtime.


Share Quest for Health

 

Sleep Deprived Teens: Health, Safety, & Mental Well Being Are At Significant Risk

Teens do not get enough sleep. Most teens need 8.5-10 hours of sleep each night. Not 6 hours. Not even 8 hours. Most don’t get even close to meeting their needs and that’s a bigger deal than many realize. Sleep is very undervalued, but we need to prioritize it.

Why don’t teens get enough sleep?

One of the most common reasons is that their biological clock (AKA circadian rhythm) makes it hard to fall asleep before 11 pm and school starts too early to allow them to sleep until 8 am, which would allow for 9 hours.

In addition to their circadian rhythm, some of their habits and activities can interfere with a healthy bedtime.

Screens are a big problem.

The light interferes with our natural melatonin rising. I regularly ask teens (and parents) to limit screen use for at least an hour before bedtime, but most teens say that’s impossible because they have to finish their homework at that time and they need their computer or tablet to do homework. If you can’t turn off the screen, at least use a program that limits the blue light that prevents the rise of melatonin. I personally use f.lux. (It’s free and works on PC, Mac, ipad, android, and Linux). I find that it really helps. (This is not a paid endorsement, just a personal statement.)

Phones.

On a similar note, phones distract kids from what they’re doing, delaying falling asleep. It takes longer to finish homework when there are distractions from the phone. Kids often are tempted to check in one more time on all their social channels, which delays sleep time. And then friends who are still up will text to see who’s up (or who they can wake up).

Activities are too late. 

I’m not talking about kids just out and about on a school night. I’m talking about regularly scheduled activities that otherwise help build a well rounded person. It’s not uncommon for activities to be scheduled to run until 9:30 or 10 on school nights for middle and high school aged kids. They get home and are hungry, need a shower, and are ramped up so not ready for sleep.

Activities start too early.

I know many kids who must be at school before school actually starts. Whether it’s band practice, church study groups, sports, or taking a missed test before school, they all interfere with sleeping in, which is what teens need.

School starts too early.

Most school districts around the country start school well before the recommended 8:30 earliest start time. School districts that have initiated later start times have shown improved test scores, fewer absences and tardies, less depression, improved athletic performance, and better graduation rates. Unfortunately, those schools are still in the minority.

Medical causes of sleep deprivation and fatigue can also occur. 

If you suspect any of these, you should schedule a visit with your doctor.

  1. Anxiety
  2. Restless leg syndrome
  3. Sleep apnea – pausing of breath, often associated with snoring
  4. Medications that affect sleep cycles
  5. Heartburn or acid reflux
  6. Hormone imbalances, such as thyroid problems
  7. Anemia, or low red blood cell counts
  8. Depression
  9. Nutrition: not eating enough, or eating foods that are not nutritious. If you eat foods that cause spikes in your blood sugar, as those sugars drop you feel fatigued.
  10. Infections
  11. Celiac disease
  12. Chronic pain conditions
  13. Chronic sleep deprivation – I know this is counter-intuitive, but being tired can make it harder to sleep.

 What happens with too little sleep?

sleep is needed
Teens who are sleep deprived suffer in many ways. Make sleep a priority!

Sleep deprivation can lead to many problems that are often not attributed to poor sleep, such as irritability, poor academic performance, accidents, obesity and more.

Moodiness.

We all associate the teen years with angst, so we can easily attribute a teen’s moodiness to just being a teen. But being chronically tired can lead to emotional dysregulation. This will look like irritability, frustration and anger.

School problems. 

It has been well established that getting proper amounts of sleep can help with focus and learning. When our teens fail to get enough sleep, they often report problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity. It’s no surprise that teens report problems paying attention to a lecture or trouble completing homework in a reasonable time with full accuracy. Grades can easily fall, which leads to anxiety and depression, which in turn leads to more moodiness and trouble sleeping.

Sleep deprivation mimics ADHD. Whenever I see a teen who wants to be evaluated for ADHD because of new loss of focus, falling grades, problems with behavior, or similar issues, I always look at sleep. Most often they don’t have ADHD if this is a new problem. They need more sleep, not a stimulant medication. You can’t put a band aide on a broken bone. Fix the problem, not the symptoms! (The same goes for a teen with ADHD who thinks the medicine that’s worked for years suddenly isn’t sufficient. Unless the medicine recently changed, they need sleep.)

Injuries.

Teens with chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to be accidentally injured.

Drowsy driving is comparable to drunk driving. Teens are at the highest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is the most likely to occur in the middle of the night (2-4 am), but also in mid-afternoon (3- 4pm) as teens drive home from school.

Athletes are more likely to be injured while playing their sport, so it is in the best interest of the team to let players sleep.

Risky behaviors. 

Teens with chronic sleep deprivation have been shown to participate in more risk taking behaviors, such as driving without a seatbelt, drinking alcohol, skipping the bike helmet and tobacco use.

Pros and Cons of later school start times for our economy

There are many temporary issues with changing school start times. Parents might have to find solutions to child care of younger kids if they rely on teens babysitting after school. New bus schedules need to be started. Sports programs will need to change practice times. After school job availabilities will change.
Despite these common arguments, economic analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that a one hour delay of school start times could lead to a $17,500 earnings gain for students, compared to a cost of $1,950 during the student’s school days.
Another study that presumed all students start school at 8:30, with a year-by-year economic effect. The study did not take into account other potential benefits of later school start times, such as decreased depression and obesity rates. They found an average annual gain of about $9.3 billion due to fewer automotive accidents, improved graduation rates, and other factors.

What can teens do to get more zzzz’s?

Go to bed when tired at night.

Fighting sleep initially will make it harder to go to sleep when you finally go to bed.

Attempt to follow a regular sleep schedule.

Going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day helps. While sleeping in on weekends can help repair a sleep deficit, it can make it harder to get to sleep Sunday night and getting sufficient sleep every night is better than just getting more sleep a few days/week. Try to sleep in no more than 2 hours past your school day wake up time.

Follow the same routine each night at bedtime.

Brush teeth, read a book or color, take a bath or shower — do whatever helps you wind down and relax. Repeating this every night can help your brain get ready for bed.

Nap to help make up missed sleep.

A short 15-20 minute nap after school can help revitalize the brain to get homework done. Just don’t sleep too long or it can interfere with bedtime.

Turn off the screens an hour before bedtime.

This includes tv, computer games, computer/tablet use for homework, and smartphones for socializing. Use night mode screen lighting and apps that dim the screen (like the f.lux app I mentioned above).

Avoid caffeine in the later afternoon.

The time it takes half of the caffeine to be removed from your body is 5-6 hours. Ideally teens would sleep and never drink caffeine, but I know that isn’t reality. Any caffeine in the later afternoon can make it harder to fall to sleep. Don’t forget “hidden” sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, energy bars, and workout supplements.

One interesting concept that has scientific backing (but goes against the “no caffeine after 3 pm” rule) is the coffee nap. Basically, you drink coffee then quickly nap for 15-20 minutes. Sodas and teas don’t work as well as coffee due to too much sugar and too little caffeine. The coffee nap has been shown to be more effective than either a nap or caffeine alone. Don’t do this often — use it at times you really need it. Don’t do this too late in the day or the caffeine will inhibit your regular night’s sleep.

Skip the snooze button.

Set your alarm for the last possible moment you can, which allows your body to get those extra minutes of sleep. If you need to get out of bed by 6:45, but set your alarm for 6:15 and hit snooze several times, you aren’t sleeping those 30 minutes. Set your alarm for 6:45!

Skip the late night studying.

Studying too late is ineffective. When the brain’s tired it won’t learn as well and you will make mistakes more readily. It takes a lot longer to get anything done when you’re tired. Go to bed and get up a little earlier to get the work finished if needed. Of course you should also look at your time management if this happens too often. Are you involved in too many activities? Do you work or volunteer too many hours? Did you waste too much time on tv, games, or socializing? Do you put off big projects until the last minute? Homework needs to take priority when you’re more alert in the afternoon and evening. If you have problems with this, talk to parents and teachers about what you can do.

If you lay awake for hours or wake frequently, try these techniques to help fall asleep: 

If these fail, talk to your parents and doctor to help find a solution.

Charge your phone in another room. 

Friends who decide to text in the middle of the night keep you from sleeping. Even phones on silent have blinking lights that can spark your curiosity. It’s too tempting to look at your social media apps one more time.

Don’t use the excuse that you need your phone as an alarm. Alarm clocks are cheap. Get one and put your phone elsewhere!

Use your bed for sleep only.

Stop doing homework in bed. Stop watching YouTube and Netflix in bed. Train your brain that your bed is where you sleep.

Exercise.

Exercise helps our bodies sleep better, but it should ideally be earlier in the day. Too close to bedtime (which is common with athletes and dancers) wires us up.

Get natural sunlight in the morning. 

This helps to set your circadian rhythm.

Keep the bedroom cool and dark.

It is harder to sleep if the room is too warm or too bright. A fan can be used to circulate air.

Use blackout shades if needed.

Keep pets out of the bedroom. 

Your animals might love you and you love them, but if they keep you up, it’s just not worth having them around at night.

Nicotine and alcohol affect sleep.

These should not be used by teens in an ideal world, but I know teens will not always follow the rules. Teens should know that if they are using nicotine or alcohol, their quality of sleep will be affected.

Nicotine is a stimulant (like caffeine), which leads to more time sleeping lightly and less time in deep sleep. And yes, vaping and chewing lead to this problem too, since it’s the nicotine that causes the problem.

Alcohol reduces the time it takes to fall asleep but it increases sleep disturbances in the second half of the night, often leading to early wakening. Alcohol relaxes muscles, which can lead to sleep apnea (often noted as snoring). Sleep apnea does not allow the body to have restful sleep. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which might increase the need to wake to go to the bathroom during the night.

We all need to prioritize sleep: for our kids and for ourselves. Our bodies and minds will thank us.

Resources:

Share Quest for Health