The Underlying Cause of ADHD – and the Easy Treatment to Fix It

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

May 1, 2023


Do you have a child or grandchild who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

If so, did you know that one of the most important causes and remedies for the condition is something we all need – sleep?

A new meta-study on sleep and ADHD shows just how important it is for these kids to get plenty of sleep. And it also points to one natural remedy that can play an important role.

A meta study is a review of previously published studies on a given subject. In this case, the researchers reviewed a total of 139 original articles on sleep and childhood ADHD. They found that 22 of the articles looked specifically at treating sleep disturbances in kids with ADHD. The results are critically important for many children with this diagnosis. And they also show the importance of sleep on a child’s behavior.

After reviewing all of the data and information on sleep and ADHD, the authors concluded that, “Healthy sleep practices are recommended as the foundation of management strategies.” That means that before anything else is tried, it’s important to ensure that these kids are getting enough sound sleep. And what sorts of remedies does this involve?

The authors point out that, “Behavioral interventions should be considered as first-line treatment of insomnia.” This refers to common sense, everyday practices to insure good sleep habits like the following:

First, make sure that the kids get to bed at an early hour, typically 8:00-8:30 every night. It’s an especially good idea to start this practice when they are very young and continue it at least past the age of 13 years.

Second, make sure that any night lights that are on in their rooms are red. Any other color of light can interfere with their ability to get into the deeper levels of sleep.

Third, ensure that any over-stimulating activities such as study, computers, movies, etc. are finished no less than 30 minutes before bedtime. Fourth, and this is very important, make sure they are on a healthy diet consisting of whole foods and absent of sugars and processed foods. But here’s the thing.

Even when all of these things are done, some kids are going to have a hard time not only falling asleep but maintaining a deep sleep. In many cases, this is because their bodies are not able to make enough melatonin. The authors point out that in all of the trials that looked specifically at remedies for sleep including medications, the one sleep remedy that stood out was melatonin. It was even more effective for these kids than medications.

Melatonin is extremely safe even in very high doses. I would suggest starting a child on 3 mg before bed. And if that isn’t adequate, increase the dose to 40-60 mg. Remember that a child’s body needs in the order of 20-30 times more melatonin than an adult. The idea would be to find the lowest dose that gets the job done. According to the authors of this study, only after ensuring that the child is getting a good night’s sleep should any other measures be considered. You can find melatonin in 3, 5, 10, and 20 mg capsules online. If you need higher doses, you can find a 60 mg capsule at


Cortese S, Brown TE, et l. Assessment and management of sleep problems in youths with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;52(8):784-96.

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