Here is a brief review of the vestibular system, its importance, and how it impacts my child’s sleeping time:
The simple way to understand the vestibular system is that it involves the sense of balance and movement. Remember that the vestibular system is centered in the inner ear where we have vestibular organs that detect motion, acceleration, and deceleration of movement. This sense works right alongside tactile, auditory and visual information to gives us our perception of space and the position, and orientation of our heads and bodies within that space. According to “The Out Of Sync Child Has Fun”, the vestibular system plays a vital role in the development of one’s sense of stability, eye control, coordination, attention, emotional security, balance, self-regulation, and language.
When children have vestibular dysfunction, their brain is not getting the correct message from their eyes, ears and the sense of movement in their bodies. Some children may be overly sensitive to movement and others may be under-responsive. Children may either need to move constantly to feel satisfied, or they may be fearful of movement because it makes them feel insecure and unbalanced.
Children with dysfunctional vestibular processing might look inattentive, lazy, anxious or seeking attention. In general, they have a hard time performing daily routines; just going to sleep, or getting out of bed in the morning.
When I noticed that my son seemed to need the back and forth swinging motion of rocking him in my arms in order for him to fall asleep, I learned to provide movement activities that he was craving before bedtime. For example, when I notice that he needs the extra vestibular input, I use a hammock and swing him back and forth in a fast and slow motion. Other times, I bounce him on a large inflatable ball and play games of hide and seek. In this way, I help my son to lower his arousal level in order to reach the state of calm necessary to drift off to sleep and get a good night’s sleep.