I have to start this post by stating that we have been reasonably lucky as special needs parents. We haven’t faced some of the debilitating sleep issues that have challenged so many others.
Sure, our middle daughter has had her fair share of sleep issues. She didn’t really sleep through until she was 5 or 6 years old after years of night terrors and anxiety. We even attended a sleep school to help her when she was a baby.
But for a number of years now sleep has not been a big issue for us.
That’s not to say that we haven’t had our moments or that we don’t struggle at all. It’s just that the other challenges that come with special needs parenting are generally harder for us to deal with.
It has helped that we have learned the best ways to encourage sleep in our family. These sleep solutions may not work for you, but they are currently helping us. If you are struggling with sleep in your family they may just be worth a try.
Sleep Solutions for Special Needs Families
I have broken up the solutions below to illustrate those that may help your kids and those that may help you as a special needs parent. These have worked for us but they may not work for everyone. However, if you are looking for a solution and you haven’t yet given these a shot, what do you have to lose (except more sleep?)
Sleep Solutions for Kids
This has been one of the most successful strategies we have ever tried. Matilda, our girl with a history of sleep issues, sleeps much better when she has a weighted blanket and a weighted pillow toy on her. The weight calms her and gives her the deep pressure she craves in order to relax, calm down the body and find sleep. I can definitely recommend weighted items as a way to encourage sleep.
It probably comes as no surprise that many kids, particularly those on the autism spectrum, will sleep better following a set bedtime routine. Routine provides comfort and reassurance by setting out what comes next and eliminating uncertainty. A good bedtime routine can also anticipate your child’s needs and address their typical post-bedtime requests so you can help them understand that bedtime is bedtime (not request time!)
Sensory Play Before Bed
I remember how confused I felt when our OT first recommended that we should play rough with Gilbert before bed. I couldn’t see how that could help him get ready for bed – wouldn’t that just rev him up? However, my son’s sensory needs (deep pressure & hard muscle work) can only really be addressed by playing rough. So we starting wrestling and roughhousing with him right before bed and it worked a treat. It’s unorthodox but if your child has similar sensory needs, it might be worth a try.
No Screen Time
This one is really important. And, to be completely honest, we still need to work on this ourselves. There are many studies showing how screen time affects our brains and stops us from winding down at night (even though my kids swear that it’s the only way they can calm down and relax!) Reading, colouring in, listening to music or other quiet, screen-free activities are more likely to help promote sleep for our kids. Try eliminating screens at night and see how you go.
Sometimes all the sensory activities in the world still cannot help shut down a busy and anxious brain. In these cases, you may need to look for another alternative, like melatonin. A natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin is widely used by many special needs families to help stimulate relaxation and sleep. I have never used melatonin myself but I know many families who swear by it’s ability to help induce sleep.
Sleep Solutions for Parents
As special needs parents, being able to still our own brains can be even more challenging than helping our kids to still theirs. Luckily, meditation can be practiced in lots of different ways in a bid to induce sleep. For instance, you can practice mindfulness in a warm shower before bed by concentrating on how the water feels on your skin, focusing on the smell of the soap, listening to the sounds of the shower, zeroing in on the warmth of the water and studying at the shape of the tiles. Consciously taking the time to “be in the moment” will help to still your mind and ready you for sleep.
Sleep is often helped or hindered by the environment around you. It probably comes as no surprise that we are hardwired to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. To eliminate distraction and confusion during the night, we’ve found that shutting our door from the light coming in from our kids’ rooms helps encourage our own sleep. It’s a simple trick but one that might actually work for you too.
Remove Devices From Your Room
It’s one thing to limit screen time for your kids but you may need to consider removing devices from your own vicinity too. Although this is another option that’s personally very hard for me to follow through, it’s one that works. If we want our kids to have some much needed screen-free time before bed we should be doing the same. Removing electronic distractions from our room has definitely helped our sleep – maybe it can help you too.
Read Before Bed
Instead of relying on devices and screens before bed, lead by example and read a book instead. Reading can help make you feel drowsy and ready for sleep. In fact, anything that’s not screen related is a great start. I personally find it difficult to read books these days but I do like doing puzzles like sudoku or find-a-words in bed. For some reason doing puzzles at night-time really does help my mind shut out my troubles and find sleep. I can’t explain it, but it works for me!
Consider Going to Bed Earlier
I know this could be seen as a potentially crazy idea, but hear me out. We’ve found that our kids sleep better without distractions. Our son, in particular, finds it hard to settle when he knows that we are still awake and watching TV. So, some nights going to bed early ourselves and spending quiet time before sleep kills two birds with one stone – it encourages our son to settle while also helping us get some shut eye too.
Do you have sleep solutions of your own to share? I’d love to hear your suggestions too!
This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “sleep.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!
To The Exhausted Mom That Never Gets A Good Night Sleep | Natural Beach Living
When Nightmares Become Reality | Every Star is Different
When Parent Sleep Deprivation Becomes Deadly | STEAM Powered Family
Sleep Solutions for Special Needs Parents | My Home Truths
The Sleep-Deprived Mom’s Guide to Survival| Life Over C’s
Sleep Solutions for Children with Sensory Needs | The Chaos and The Clutter
Sleep Strategies for Kids with Autism or Sensory Needs | And Next Comes L
The One Overwhelming Thing that Keeps Me Up at Night | Kori at Home
Seasons of Sleep for Special Needs Parents | 3 Dinosaurs
6 Steps to a Calm Bedtime Routine for Your Highly Sensitive Child | Carrots Are Orange
Surviving Night Terrors | Grace and Green Pastures
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So many things I’ve never had to consider – I’ve no children, let alone no children with special needs. It must be difficult.
We’ve been relatively lucky as we’ve stumbled into a sleep routine that generally works for us but there are those nights where nothing you try works. Insomnia can hit anyone and I think these tips could help others too, not just special needs families. Although sleep seems to be something that many special needs families struggle with…
What great suggestions! I love how you include a list to help parents. That’s so important.
We’re the ones who often find it harder to get to sleep and relax with all the potential night wakings and upsets. There’s been many a night where I’ve laid in the darkness unable to go back to sleep because of everything racing in my head. Sometimes we all need a little help to get to sleep!
I think a weighted blanket is great for anyone. I know I sleep so well in hotel beds with heavy blankets, shame I don’t have it at home though.
It gives you a sense of security – there is no better feeling than being tucked up in heavy blankets and fresh sheets.
I definitely think that my boys have a way better sleep routine when they have been out and about in the sun during the day.
I noticed this while on our recent mini-holiday. Days of walking, scootering and swimming helped my kids get off to sleep well and stay asleep too!
When my boys were toddlers we used to put a bag of sugar or rice on their backs because the weight helped them go to sleep. As for us parents, reading before bed is the best thing ever. I always sleep well!
It’s amazing how weight can help calm kids down – it does the trick for us every time!
I work third shift, so I can definitely say that having a darkened room is helpful for sleep! And so is reading. 🙂
We’ve slept so much better since we closed our door to the light from the kids’ rooms – it definitely works for us!
Very good. Sleep is such a big issue for us. Thanks for linking to #spectrumsunday
I love linking up each fortnight – thanks for hosting x