Parents of children with additional needs frequently report sleep issues, and these issues can be more severe and continue for longer. Here are some tips from Antonia Chitty and Victoria Dawson, authors of Sleep and Your Special Needs Child, that may help to make bedtime easier if your child struggles to drop off or stay asleep.
- Firstly, talk to the health care professionals involved with your child and see if they can help you to explore reasons for your child’s sleep issues. Underlying reasons may include sensory processing difficulties, lack of understanding about night and day or medical issues such as POTS. If you suspect your child having POTS, then talking to the health care professionals would be instrumental because they’re the ones that are able to know if your child needs to undergo Pots syndrome treatment.
- Record what is happening at night by using a sleep diary. Share this information with professionals to see if they can help you to explore why your child may have sleep issues and which might be appropriate strategies to try to improve your child’s sleep.
- Use visual clues to support your child’s understanding. Visual timetables can help to show your child what is going to happen next during the bedtime routine. This can make the evening calmer and easier for you and your child.
- Television viewing can hinder melatonin production so it is sound advice to avoid any screens in the hour leading up to bedtime this includes mobile phones and computer screens. Melatonin is the hormone that helps us to fall asleep and some research suggests that some children with additional needs may not produce enough or may release it later in the evening. Replace TV with calm activities like completing a puzzle together.
- Review your child’s diet to ensure that they are not eating or drinking anything sugar loaded before bedtime.
- Ensure that your child is in a routine and put them to bed at the same time each night. It is also important to wake them at the same time each morning.
- Review your child’s bedroom and assess whether it is a good environment to promote sleep. If they are visually impaired or hearing impaired then sleeping in total darkness may be disorientating for them. Consider how their bed feels and whether it meets their sensory needs.
- Sleep problems can be complex and it is important to try to identify whether your child’s sleep issues are behaviour based or medically based. Ask your health practitioners for guidance make sure that you tell them about any unusual night time behaviours such as snoring, teeth grinding or night terrors too. You can read on tips to improving your snoring to help your child sleep better.
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.