Sleep Strategies for Kids with Special Needs

Sleep: We all want it, we all need it, and many of us are not at our finest without it.

We expect to deal with some sleep deprivation during the newborn years, but what if that extends past when we expected? While some children seem to be born excellent sleepers, others may have trouble self-soothing, calming down, falling asleep and staying asleep. This can be especially true for children with special needs, or sensory processing disorder. If you are a parent whose child struggles with bedtime, then you know all too well that this can make a long night for everyone.

Lacey Berger, wife and mother of three, understands the challenges of bedtime. In 2016, her youngest child was diagnosed with chromosome 15q duplication syndrome, which is believed to be one of the known genetic causes of autism. “She brings our family so much joy despite all of her challenges,” Berger says of her daughter. “We have learned to celebrate every inch-stone of success. She tends to gain new skills for a few weeks and then lose them. Our goal is to develop her communication skills so others can experience the same joy we see in her every day.” 

Berger shares her bedtime struggles, as well as some tips for parents who might be struggling to get their child down for the night. 

What does your bedtime routine look like?

We try to maintain the same routine: dinner, playtime or walk, bath and bedtime — all in that order. Keeping the routine seems to help. When the routine has been broken, or if she takes a long nap, she can sometimes be awake until midnight.

Trying to get all three of our kids to sleep, in addition to bathing, brushing teeth and taking medicine, is very challenging for us. Our daughter requires someone to rock her to sleep, and needs music, or white noise to calm her down. Once she is down, we are very thankful that she is able to sleep through the night. 

Do you incorporate calming products, or limit electronics before bedtime?

In general, we try to limit electronics and TV time during the school week, especially before bedtime. We do utilize our Alexa device to play music or white noise to help calm her down at night.

Bedtime can be a challenging — and sometimes frustrating — time. Every child and family is different. Parents need to find what works best for their child and their family unit.  

Top Tips for Sleep Struggles 

If bedtime has been a struggle in your home, know you aren’t aloneHere are some ideas that can help make the evening hours more manageable for you and your family, and hopefully, encourage your child to fall asleep — and stay asleep — until morning.  

  • Maintain a predictable routine.
  • Incorporate quiet time in the evening.
  • Turn the lights down prior to bedtime to let your child know it is time to wind down.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time.
  • Use calming products.
  • Listen to white noise, or soft music, during bedtime.
  • Hold and rock your child.
  • Use essential oils.
  • Use blackout blinds in the bedroom.
  • Be sure your child is getting the appropriate amount of sensory input during the day, and limit when necessary.
  • Limit electronics usage prior to bedtime.
  • Be sure your child is getting enough physical activity during the day.

Calming Products 

The National Autism Resources website is a great resource for finding products that calm and soothe, which can help at bedtime. Visit the National Autisum Resources website to find products such as therapy swings, cocoon bean bag chairs, pressure vests, weighted blankets and toys, headphones, nighttime lamps and more.

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