Sensory Strategies for Sleep

We all know how a good (or bad) night of sleep can make or break everything we do the next day – and even for days to come. Sleep allows our brains and bodies a chance to recharge and to be ready for the activities of the day ahead. Insufficient sleep can affect attention, cognition,  and social skills, and impact a child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Children with diagnoses of ADHD, cerebral palsy, brain injury, autism spectrum disorder and other conditions are especially prone to sleep problems – in fact, 50-80% of children with autism have sleep disorders. A child’s quality of sleep plays a huge role in a parent’s wellbeing and overall stress level, as well.

What can we do to encourage quality sleep?

Have a consistent bedtime routine:

  • Try to set a consistent routine that works for your family’s schedule and stick to it (i.e., dinner, then play outside, then bath, then read a book, then bed).
  • Use visual schedules with pictures as needed to help the child know what comes next.

Think calming activities:

  • If a child hates bath time or other grooming activities and these activities tend to be very alerting and upsetting for him, consider doing these activities at another time of day or earlier in the evening.
  • Avoid screen time – tablets, TV and phones – before bed.
  • Prior to bedtime, try to give your child opportunities for heavy work (pushing, pulling, squeezing, etc.) as well as deep pressure input (hugs, massage, squishing with cushions on child’s back, etc.). Back-and-forth linear movement, such as rocking, is calming to many children, but circular movements, such as spinning, are more alerting and should be avoided.
  • Consider using a weighted blanket and/or tight fitting pajamas to provide deep pressure when going to sleep.

Make the bedroom conducive to sleep:

  • Use white noise sound machines or books on tape, especially for kids who struggle with anxiety.
  • Remove light-up toys and other alerting objects from room.
  • Make sure the child’s room is not too cold or hot.

If your child has chronic sleep disturbances, always keep your pediatrician in the loop, as with any concerns regarding your child’s health. He or she may recommend medication or a sleep study. Remember that the above tips are general guidelines and do not replace consulting your occupational therapist for suggestions specific to your child’s needs.

With better sleep, kids are ready to take on the world!

Meredith Hunt,  MHSOT, OTR/L

Photo Courtesy Pixabay/Title Added

Reference: Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents by Jane Case-Smith and Jane Clifford O’Brien, seventh edition (2015)


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