Q. What are some sensory support ideas to help my child sleep?
A. Every parent knows the misery of sleep deprivation. For parents of kids with sensory issues this can persist much longer than we ever imagined possible. Sleep: the elusive unicorn of parenting.
Achieving deep sleep is not an easy task for a child who is in “fight or flight” state or doesn’t know where their body is. To sleep we relax the body and the mind, which for kids means to feel safe, secure and comfortable. Here are a few things that you may not have tried. Yet.
- Take a look at the bed orientation. Is it in the middle of a large bedroom? Consider placing the bed where your child can be against a wall. Create a “nest” of pillows and blankets so (s)he feels input from all sides.
- Lie on the bed and consider his perspective. Look at the colors and visual stimuli in the bedroom. Are your child’s favorites incorporated? Are they stimulating or relaxing?
- Is your child fearful of the dark? Create a soft glow with clear Christmas tree lights along a curtain rod with a sheer panel.
- Weighted stuffed animals, a few extra blankets or weighted tube socks filled with rice can help.
- Is your child waking with the sun? Try blackout curtains, move the bed to face a different direction.
- Bring tall ceilings down with fabric drapes, darker ceiling paint, a bed tent or canopy.
- White noise machines, classical music or earmuffs are options.
- If bedwetting is an issue, try layering fitted sheets alternating with waterproof liners. This helps with nighttime accidents by allowing you to just peel the wet layers off, throw them in the laundry and go back to bed.
- Have a predictable routine such as “bath, book, bed.” With lavender lotion and joint compressions, a “goodnight” song and a snuggle, you’ve addressed most sensory areas.
- For some kids, chewing can be relaxing. Offer easily digestible foods, chewy tubes or a wet washcloth.
- For some children, limit food before bed so that their body doesn’t have to digest which can be irritating. Consider reflux and elevate the head of the bed if this is a possibility.
- A vibrating toy, pillow or mattress can be calming for some children.
- Children may have a delayed response to stressors like vacations, weather or routine changes by being sleeplessness days afterward.
- Sleep patterns change over time and what works today may not work next week. Don’t get discouraged!
- Don’t forget to ask your physician for ideas or possible supplements.
Remember the WHOLE day is preparation for sleep. Fatigue muscles, limit screen time (none at least two hours before bedtime) and follow a predictable bedtime routine to slow systems down and slide into slumber.
Good luck and sweet dreams, families.
Joanna Blanchard is the mother of two boys aged 8 and 11, who are on complete opposite ends of the autism spectrum. She has been a pediatric Occupational Therapist for the last 13 years, the owner of Everybody Stims Occupational Therapy, a home-based therapy practice in southwest Washington, an an employee of Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Pediatric Rehabilitation. “I believe Occupational Therapy is about learning to move our minds and bodies to achieve the work and play that we need and want to do for our best life possible. It’s through play that young children learn how to manipulate objects, move, interact, cope and have relationships with others which lets them practice for a lifetime of success.”