There may be a diet to help children with ADHD sleep better. The symptoms of attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which include high levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, are most effectively controlled with pharmacotherapy and behavior management. These methods, however, do little to address the early morning and late evening symptoms that children with ADHD commonly experience: headaches, belly aches, “growing pains,” and trouble with sleep initiation and maintenance. To address these deficiencies of traditional ADHD treatment, researchers in the Netherlands studied the effect of an elimination diet on a number of physical complaints and sleep problems in children with ADHD. Their findings show promise in alleviating pain and improving sleep for these children.
Twenty-seven children between the ages of three and eight years old were selected to participate in the study. To be eligible, each child had to meet all the criteria for ADHD diagnosis. The children were divided into two groups: one group of 15 children received the elimination diet, and the other group of 12 children maintained a normal diet. Parents were instructed to keep detailed notes on their children’s diets and behavior.
In the beginning of the experiment, all children ate normally for two weeks. After that, the group of 15 children began a five-week period on the elimination diet. During that time, they were fed only hypoallergenic foods such as rice, turkey, lamb, pears, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, beets and water. They drank a non-dairy rice drink supplemented with calcium. To ensure they received all necessary nutrients, their diet was occasionally supplemented with potatoes, other fruits, corn, and wheat. The other 12 children continued to eat their normal diets for the same five-week period.
The 15 children who followed the elimination diet showed an overall 4.6 times greater reduction than the other 12 children in all physical and sleep problems; overall complaints were reduced by 77 percent in the elimination diet group, versus only 17 percent in the control group. These results show that hypersensitivity to a variety of foods may cause a higher incidence of physical and sleep problems in children with ADHD.
If you have child with ADHD who frequently complains of bodily pains and does not sleep well, this elimination diet may be a great tool for you to improve your child’s physical comfort and sleep quality. As a pilot study, the strength of this research is limited and more studies are necessary to confirm the results, but it may be worth mentioning to your child’s pediatrician to see if this ADHD elimination diet may be worth trying at home.