Try Other Approaches to Help Your Sensitive Child to Get Sleep

If you have been following my blog, you would have noticed that I tried different tactics to improve my son’s sleeping patterns, and I found out that many things help a little bit.  Some approaches have not yet been approved in scientific studies, but that does not mean they are ineffective.  I learned that when we understand our child’s sensory signals, we will know what sensory tools and strategies can help our child in fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

I also know that each child with sensory processing disorder is different, and therefore the course of treatment will vary.  Carol Stock Kranowitz, author of “The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction,” shows that many neurological problems and symptoms overlap and children may have dysfunctions in more than one area.

For instance, my son not only has the problem of sleeping, but also acid reflux, and hyperactivity. These issues are related to one another and can affect the child’s eating, learning and behavior patterns. This variety of symptoms has helped me to understand why doctors do not prescribe drugs to treat sensory processing disorder. It is very complex; however, parents cannot just sit back, and do nothing.

For example, we know that acid reflux is an issue that can impact a sensitive child’s ability to sleep.  My son has this condition, and I am treating this problem by giving my child Apple Cider Vinegar before meals. I have noticed that this alternative medicine is helping him to stop burping after eating his meals.

Another alternative treatment that I sometimes give my son is an Epsom salt bath. However, I think it is always important to discuss the sleep difficulties with the child’s doctor before using any supplements or medications.

I hope my experience of having a child with sensory problems has served other parents who have children with sleep difficulties. I would like to thank all those who have been reading these posts and commenting. I am going to take a break from this blog while I gather new material to write about.  In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

Bedtime Routine for Children with Sensory Needs

Today’s topic is bedtime routines for children whose sleep problems may be grounded in sensory integration dysfunction. Bedtime and routines are a big deal with my son. A trigger such as lack of sleep or stepping out of routine causes him to become hyperactive.

Setting a bedtime routine for a child with sensory needs is challenging.  We know that a sensitive child faces a hard transition when moving from activities to bedtime. As parents, we need to follow through with various sensory integration tools to help our children settle down at night and relax into sleep.

The bedtime routine that I practice with my child is as follows:

  1. I create a set routine for bedtime. I provide my child with plenty of transition time that follows the same pattern every night.
  2. My son and I create nighttime rules and a schedule together. I post the bedtime routine checklist in a common area where my child has access to it.
  3. Once I have set the bedtime, I let my child chooses which pajamas to wear and which stuffed animals to sleep with. This ritual bedtime interaction makes my son feel that he has power in the decision-making process.
  4. I always remind myself to understand my child’s needs, so I observe him before jumping into what I think he needs to get to sleep.
  5. I constantly offer time cues throughout the evening to remind my son that he has 5 minutes for brushing his teeth, 20 minutes to read and 30 minutes for yoga exercises. We try to do these activities together in a playful way.
  6. I give my child a tapping massage to help him settle down at night and be able to relax into sleep.

I hope you find this post useful! Let me know how it works for you!

Sensory Exercises For Sleeping

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Most children with sensory processing dysfunction have difficulties getting sleep and there are understandable reasons for this. We already know the causes which I have been describing in my previous blogs.

This time I will share some physical exercises that help my child sleep through the night.  Sometimes, when my son has had an overstimulating day, he ends up lying awake in bed, tossing and turning for hours, unable to wind down even though he is in a dark and quiet room. At that moment, we practice some exercises to help him lower his level of alertness. For example, we start with the breathing exercise that involves squeezing and then releasing tense parts of our bodies.  Our session lasts 30 minutes and it goes as follows:

  1. Focus your attention on your breath and exhale completely through your mouth by making a whooshing sound.
  2. Give yourself bear hugs and squeeze a soft ball in your hands.
  3. Pretend you are a furry, lazy cat that is stretching. Stretch your arms in front of you and over your head.
  4. Walk through a big, squishy mud puddle. Squish your toes down into the mud and use your legs to help you push down to the bottom.
  5. Lay on the ground and make your stomach hard and soft. Suck in your stomach and hold your breath slower and deeper, and let your breath out with a whooshing sound.
  6. Pretend you are a turtle and pull your head in tight by pushing your shoulders up to your ears. Hide your head!meditation-1000062__340-1
  7. Exercise your jaw by biting down
  8. Repeat the exercises until you see your child relax.

I learned some of these exercises from my yoga class where the instructor always recommends breathing because it works in the same way as meditation. I believe the breathing exercise works because it really helps to relax my son’s neuro system and help him fall asleep.

Helping Children With Reflux Sleep Better

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This time I am going to share some quick tips that I learned through my journey of helping my son get to sleep.  If you read my blogs, you are probably familiar with the topic of Sensory Processing Dysfunction and how this neuronal disorder affects children’s sleeping habits.

Many children who have sensory processing difficulties also have acid reflux. This issue has on extreme impact on the sleep quality of a newborn.  When my son was a baby, his reflux was so severe that he would only sleep upright on my chest. I basically had to spend most of the day and night adjusting him so that he would be comfortable enough to sleep.

Other things that I practiced to alleviate my baby’s reflux to help him sleep:

  • Using a wedge under my baby’s mattress to help elevate his upper body. This helped position my baby on the wedge, and prevent him from wiggling off. I used this position for a while because this is the safest way for babies to sleep in order to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, I noticed that my baby was uncomfortable and the symptoms of reflux even worse. Later, I found out that the good position for a baby with acid reflux was laying the baby down flat on his tummy. My son was able to sleep longer on this way, but I was next to him all the time.
  • Writing a log of my baby’s feeding times, as well as periods of discomfort. This helped me to compare those times when reflux symptoms occur with the baby’s eating patterns and that may help you make necessary changes.
  • Feed your baby early and then hold your baby semi-upright for twenty minutes before laying him down for bed. Repeat the same step for middle of the night feedings.
  • Comfort your baby often in order to help him feel calm and cared for.
  • Another thing that helped me was cutting out dairy and gluten from my diet when I was breastfeeding. A healthy nutrition can help to get a good night sleep.
  • Another thing to manage your baby’s reflux is to see a healthcare provider and get your baby’s reflux under control. Some doctors prefer to wait for symptoms to improve and they say that most babies outgrow their reflux symptoms as they developed.
  • However, infants with severe reflux may struggle for months or years if parents do not ask for medication. If your baby seems fussy and uncomfortable after eating or if you hear lots of tummy gurgling after your baby eats, and this discomfort makes it hard to stay asleep. These symptoms are big red flags, and one should start medication sooner rather than later.

Sleeping Tips to Help a Child with Sensory Issues

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.watercolour-1768978__340

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.

Finding Out About The Vestibular Sense

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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.