By struggling to get my son to fall asleep, I have learned some tips to teach him to cultivate sleep patterns. Helping a child with sensory issues learn healthy sleep habits involves more than simply following a set of instructions. Usually, children with sensory processing dysfunction need simple changes and practical tips for getting the most out of sleeping time.
Here are some ideas I’ve been practicing with my son to help him sleep. These tips will take some trial and error, and you may find that you need them less and less as the child’s nervous system improves.
- Before bedtime, observe your child’s sensory processing needs in order to provide sensory vestibular and proprioceptive input that will help your child relax his or her nervous system in order to reach the state of calm required to drift off to sleep. For example, sometimes I find that my child falls asleep if he jumps on his trampoline, and then I give him a quick bath with cool water. Other times he needs rocking activities to soothe himself to sleep.
- Consider bedding and clothing. Sometimes my child cannot tolerate the feel of certain textures and he prefers to sleep without clothing on. Parents might experiment with different nightwear until they find something that their child tolerates. Make sure the mattress is not lumpy, too hard, or excessively soft. When my child gets out of bed throughout the night to sleep on the floor, he shows me that he needs a firm sleeping surface. After recognizing this need, I placed an extra mattress on his bedroom floor. I noticed that this small change has helped his sleep patterns improve significantly.
- Some children may need weighted blankets to help them feel present in their body at bedtime. I am planning to buy a weighted blanket to minimize my son’s rhythmic movement disorder (rocking and rolling) during his sleeping time, but first I need to ask for professional advice from my child’s Occupational Therapist.
- Reduce environmental noise by keeping the house moderately quiet. Avoid trouble by filtering out sounds inside the child’s bedroom. My child is sound-sensitive and he awakens easily if he hears the television on in the next room. Some children might need to relax themselves by listening to natural sounds like rain falling, ocean waves, bird songs, and so on.
- Create an appropriate sleeping room. Some children are light-sensitive. My son prefers a completely dark room to get sleep easily. I also make sure that the room is not too hot or too cold. Children may ask for water and some parents may think it is a distraction, but they could be really hot.
- Last but not least, the most important tip is to provide your child with a nutritious snack before bed that helps induce sleep.
Remember: sleeping is not a state we can force a child into. It will depend on both your child’s individual needs and how you nurture them at night time.