Ask An Expert / ADHD

My 12-year-old daughter with ADHD stays up late reading and then doesn’t want to wake up in the morning. What should I do?

Setting limits with older kids can be tough

Steven G. Dickstein, MD

My 12-year-old daughter has ADHD. Since she was born she has been a night owl, and now she likes to stay up late reading, and has tremendous difficulty waking up in the morning. Even if my husband and I put her to bed, and she falls asleep, she will often wake up and read through the night. If we take away her lamp she will go read in the bathroom. At the same time, she is extremely difficult to wake in the morning. If she does wake up, there is a 50-50 chance that she will either not get dressed, or will not get out of bed, and then she ends up missing school.When I ask her what is going on she just says, "I can't" or "I won't." She is very smart, and seems to enjoy school, but she says she is not "motivated." Do you have any suggestions?

It’s great that your daughter loves reading. You don’t want to discourage that, but your daughter does need to start going to sleep earlier and waking up at regular times. You may find that getting enough sleep helps her feel more motivated in school. It should also help improve the mornings at your house.

Unfortunately, setting limits with a twelve-year-old can be hard because they’re getting older and more independent, which means they can be stubborn when their parents take charge. Talking to her about why she is staying awake is a good first step. There are lots of reasons why a child might want to stay up reading. It could just be that she loves reading, but it could also be that she feels anxious about going to sleep, or she’s lonely and books and fantasy provide comfort. Her reasons may be simple or complicated, but understanding them is the first step to helping her.

You should also discuss the effect that staying up so late is having on her. Does she see any consequences? If she doesn’t, that explains why she keeps doing it. You can help her understand how staying up late is actually bad for her.

Of course, her ADHD could also be a factor here. Kids with ADHD often struggle with inhibitory control and prioritizing things like sleep, especially in the face of a reward like reading, which she seems passionate about. Making sure that her ADHD is being adequately treated will also be important to helping her get the most out of being at school during the day.

All kids benefit from regular routines, but kids with ADHD do in particular. Develop a routine that works for everyone, taking into account the things you need to do — like eat breakfast and get a full night’s rest — and the things you want to do, like read. Work on building a routine and then sticking to it. If you find you need more help, you may want to talk to her pediatrician or to a mental health professional about how to foster better sleep habits otherwise known as “sleep hygiene.”