A problem stays a problem until it’s fixed. ADHD is no exception. So, while pills and special interventions are being handed out left and right, they don’t address what caused the problem in the first place. On top of that, some ADHD medications pose serious health risks. The FDA would surely refute these claims, but really, ADHD may need nothing more than skill development and lifestyle changes. If you’re looking to heal ADHD; sleep, diet, exercise, and alternative therapies may be all you need.
All kids need daily exercise, but this is especially important for kids with ADHD. Physical activity makes the brain pump out endorphins like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Such brain chemicals are a big help with mood — always a good thing — but brain chemicals like dopamine offer ADHD stable alertness. So, exercise is actually as important for attitude as it is for attention.
Moving around in any shape or form will benefit ADHD, but activities requiring focus (ie martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, and tai chi) can be especially helpful because they help build skills with attention. Group exercise and team sports are especially beneficial because it requires awareness and communication, but they’re also more fun and appealing because of the camaraderie. Professor of Psychology Dr. Betsy Horza says thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise shows a noticeable impact on focus and mood.
A number of studies on ADHD and sleep show that sleep deprivation and troubled-sleep have a strong connection to kids with ADHD. Poor sleep may not seem like an obvious answer to the high-energy and erratic behavior associated with ADHD, but if you’ve had a toddler you know better. The sudden “energy spikes” that happen around naptime and bedtime appear to a stranger as high energy, but a parent knows that it’s really a sign that they’re moments away from crashing into sleep. So while adults may move slowly when they’re tired, a tired child can act the opposite.
Insomnia and restless leg syndrome are common sleep disorders tied to ADHD. Cutting back sugar and caffeine will deliver quick results. Nutrition can actually help with this too. Vitamins and minerals play a big role in well-being because of their role in our heath, and magnesium is one such example. Magnesium deficiency is common among those living with restless leg syndrome, and given its role in muscle function, it’s obviously worth trying.
Avoiding electronics and artificial lighting will also help. Routine is another must because of how well the body responds to it. Couple this with relaxation via warm baths, bedtime tea, stretching, or reading aloud, and the mind and body can easily slip into a calm state. Herbal remedies are also a smart addition to any night routine since herbs like passionflower, valerian, and hops improve sleep and relaxation.
White noise therapy music is another sleep-must, and it can help children, babies, and adults alike. Gemstones may also be worth a gander with stones like amethyst having a reputation for reducing anxiety and improving sleep. I gave my daughter amethyst to help her own sleep troubles, and she stopped waking up the very night I gave it to her. Whether it was the stone or the placebo effect, either way, it worked.
Modern times have popularized the ancient adage, “Let thy food be thy medicine,” but many of us slack with practicing Hippocrates wise advice. This leads to big problems, because a poor diet creates a cycle of problems that ends up feeding itself. Instead of eating whatever’s convenient, we need to deliberately choose a diet that gives us the energy and nutrition our bodies crave.
Kids should be eating regularly to keep blood sugar levels (and energy and focus) stable. Proteins and complex carbs should be in every meal to keep energy stable without any sudden spikes in blood sugar. And, as is the case with people of all needs and ages — meals free of allergens, food, artificial colorings, preservatives, and sugar will help energy as well as overall well-being.
Vitamins and minerals like L-carnitine, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6 may reduce ADHD symptoms. Children with ADHD are often deficient in iron, magnesium, and zinc, so those three are especially important. Omega fatty acids are another dietary daily-do. Studies have shown that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3’s compared to other children without ADHD. You can start out by following Dr. John Ratey’s advice by getting 2.5 grams of omega -3’s per day (with three times as much EPA to DHA).
The best way to get the above is through diet since it offers nutrition in it’s natural form and promotes healthier eating habits, but supplements still have their place. You’ll want to do your research because dietary supplements like Focus Factor claim to benefit the brain, but a look at reviews and testimonials suggest the claim falls short. Start with daily nutrition and go from there.
Modern times have caused a surge in therapies free of meds or awkward counseling sessions. Music therapy is one, and it’s as fun as it beneficial. The social component of music pushes kids to listen, and to be present in the moment; thus developing focus and awareness, and promoting structure. But if music therapy isn’t an option, you can turn on music at home. A song’s rhythm has a strong impact on our own physical and mental rhythms. It also boosts production of dopamine; a neurotransmitter tied to attention, memory, and motivation. If you want to make the most of your music time, look into Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. He’s long studied the connection between music and the brain, and he has a list of albums that can promote the brainwaves needed for different states of mind.
Animal therapy is another alternative therapy that kids are sure to love. The modality of equine therapy uses therapy horses to develop physical, mental, and emotional skills. Horses have subtle means of communication, so kids need to learn how to tune in and be present with their therapy horse. It also gets kids out in a natural environment that’s free of the pressures and frustrations they feel at school or at home.
But if horses aren’t in the neighborhood, a family pet can be used to alleviate ADHD symptoms. A dog offers kids a great pal they can play outside with, and that helps them with exercise as well as making new friends. Training a dog also offers a great opportunity for kids to develop patience and responsibility, while developing a sense of accomplishment. However, petting any animal can increase feel-good chemicals that promote happiness and peace of mind. Pets also offer kids a friend that listens without any judgement, and that can work wonders with confidence and mood.
Behavior Management is a must for kids with ADHD, but parents can do this themselves at home. Healthline has a great list of ADHD parenting principles that help kids build awareness and learn how to manage their own behavior. Some of the ideas include; creating clear rules with clear consequences, encouraging kids to think out loud when they’re about to act out, offering children “wait time” so they can work on thinking before speaking, and managing outbursts with time to cool down (I have my son shake off his mood by running laps or doing pushups and jumping jacks). And while children need to learn to manage their own behavior, adults should be doing the same thing themselves. We need to be patient, understanding, and in control of our own outbursts, because our children will mimic, not what we say, but what we do.
Exercise: Strive to get kids at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Search for activities your child enjoys that will enable them to strengthen skills they need to develop like focus, attention, motor skills, or sociability.
Sleep: Bedtime needs will vary, but a school-aged child should be getting between 7-12 hours of solid zzz’s. Make sleep come easily by creating a relaxing night routine that comes to an end at the same time every school night. Promote deeper sleep with herbs, white noise therapy tunes, and gemstones.
Diet: Make fresh and wholesome foods a part of the daily diet, and keep food coming every 3 hours so blood sugar remains stable. Avoid sugar and artificial ingredients (colorings, preservatives, etc.), and give daily doses of iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, and omega-3’s.
Alternative Therapies: Music therapy offers kids a list of benefits, and many of them come from simply playing music as a part of the home environment. Select rhythms that match the mood you’re looking to create, and use music that’s designed to promote brainwaves for things like sleep, focus, or relaxation.
Animal therapy can also be used to help children develop mental, emotional, and behavioral skills. A simple house pet also benefits kids by being a companion that offers feel-good endorphins and a positive bond.
Work on behavior management at home by creating clear rules and developing self-awareness by encouraging kids to wait before they speak, and to think before they act.
Resources for this article include:
ADHD Medication & Low Bone Density: Are Kids At Risk? – Medical News Today
ADHD And Exercise – Child Mind Institute
ADHD And Sleep – National Sleep Foundation
The Best Bedtime Herbs For Sleep, Relaxation, And Anxiety – Sleep Junkies
6 Natural Remedies For ADHD – Healthline
Focus Factor: Does This Supplement Really Work? – Diet Spotlight
Music: Sound Medicine For ADHD – ADDitude Magazine
Brainwave Entrainment Frequencies – DreamWeaver House Foundation
Equine-Assisted Therapy: Physical And Emotional Benefits – Electrobraid
Parenting Tips For ADHD: Dos And Don’ts – Healthline