If bedtime is a battle, here are five tips from Antonia Chitty and Victoria Dawson, authors of Sleep and Your Special Needs Child, which will help make the evening calmer, and allow your child to drop off more easily.
- Give your child a head’s up! Many children struggle with the transition from one activity to another. Work out a system to show your child what’s coming up next. A visual timetable with photos of your child doing each activity might help, or a sandtimer can help your child count down. Talk to your child’s school and see if they have a special signal before changing activities. Follow the same routine each evening, at the same time.
- Use short, simple instructions when doing the bedtime routine. Children can find it hard to filter out the instruction within a long sentence, such as ‘Come on now, it’s time to go upstairs for your bath and then we can get you into your pyjamas and then, because you’ve been really good today, we can take a look at that new book we got from the library.’ Mirror back the way your child speaks to you: if they use just one or two words, say ‘bathtime now’, for example.
- What’s happening before bedtime? Pick calming activities, such as completing a jigsaw puzzle like the ones at https://bluekazoo.games/products/1000-piece-pc-round-earth-moon-sun-puzzles. Avoid screen-based activities as the light can combat your child’s body’s signals to wind down. Cover up the television with a cloth: this can act as a visual signal that it is no longer available. Good activities can include:
- Building bricks
- Colouring in
- Dressing a doll
- Pick a simple pre-bed snack. Avoid big meals or sugary food and drinks. Allow time for your child to digest their food before bed. A glass of milk and a savoury sandwich will work for some children.
- Make the most of the effect that light has on the body, dim any lights, and draw the curtains before bedtime even if it is still daylight. Reducing light levels signal to the body to produce melatonin which encourages sleep. Research suggests that some children may not produce enough melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy: speak to your child’s specialist to see if this could be an issue.
If your child struggles with change, as many children do, pick just one suggestion from this article to introduce gradually, and see if it helps before moving onto the next one.
Sleep and Your Special Needs Child addresses sleep problems using a highly successful behavioural and cognitive approach to sleep management, and is the first book to explain these approaches in detail. The practical advice contained is invaluable for parents who want to feel more in control and more confident about tackling sleep issues in a way that is appropriate for their child. If you need more help, you can also contact The Children’s Sleep Charity. The charity works with children from the age of 1 so they and their parents are supported to get a good night’s sleep.