Does your child have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
From Black Bear Academy, 1801 W Byron St, Chicago, IL 60613
For children who have trouble falling or staying asleep, sensory strategies can be helpful to support your child’s ability to self-regulate at night. Most of the sensory strategies suggested by occupational therapists for babies can be applied to older children as well. Replicating the in utero environment is often calming and organizing for all children. When considering strategies, I like to address each sensory system by selecting techniques that will calm that particular system thinking of the womb environment. Here is a list of calming strategies to address each sensory system:
1. Auditory: Play white noise music from ipad or have a fan running. The white noise can help your child to filter out loud sounds from the external environment. Singing soft and slow songs is always helpful to incorporate in your nighttime routine.
2. Body Awareness: Utilize weighted blankets or heavy quilts and provide tons of hugs. When the lights are out, your child needs to depend upon their proprioceptive sense to know where their body is in space. The deep pressure from the blankets or snuggles supports their body awareness to provide a calming sensation.
3. Visual: Have little to no light in your child’s room. Make sure you are in charge of the lights in the room so the child is not tempted to turn on the lights in the middle of the night. Night lights are great to use, especially ones that have slow movement, however some kids require no lights to understand it is time to go to bed. Utilize visual cues as reminders to when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. There are visual timer alarm clocks that give off the color red when it is time to sleep and green when it is time to wake up. This encourages them to stay in bed until they see the green. This helps set their internal clock (interoceptive sense).
4. Touch: Focus on deep pressure rather than light touch to calm your child. Incorporate baby massage with lotion in their nighttime routine. A nice warm bath might also be beneficial. Utilize a warm rice or bean pillow to keep their bed nice and cozy. Always think about the type of fabric or what type of clothing your child is wearing. Tight, soft, and long pants and sleeves tend to be more calming.
5. Movement: The vestibular system which is located in our inner ear is our movement system. This is the first system to develop in utero. Therefore movement is a great sensory stimuli to incorporate in your nighttime routine. Slow, linear movement is calming while fast, rotary movement is alerting. You can incorporate movement in a swing or in a rocking chair.
6. Olfactory: The sense of smell can be very influential for children with sensory
processing challenges. Utilizing essential oils such as a lavender scent into your lotion or in a diffuser can create a calming environment for your child to regulate themselves for bedtime.
7. Gustatory/Oral: The sense of taste is often forgotten during the nighttime routine. When considering flavors, avoid sour, sweet, or spicy flavors, crunchy or gummy foods and cold temperatures, and stick with warm temperatures, smooth textures, and plain flavors. A glass of warm water might be beneficial for your child to drink during your nighttime routine. Also, consider what type of toothpaste flavor your child is using. If it is a peppermint or mint toothpaste, it might be over-stimulating for them. Try another mild flavor. Electronic toothbrushes are great to bring awareness to your child’s mouth, however this might be overstimulating during the nighttime routine.
8. Interoception: This system is the body’s ability to sense internal organ function
including respiration, hunger, thirst, heart rate, and the need for digestive
elimination. It is not a common sensory system mentioned, however it is extremely
important for your child’s internal needs to be met before going to sleep. Make sure they are not thirsty or hungry, have a calm heart rate, and have gone to the bathroom. I always recommend having a water bottle accessible during the night and day. Camelbak water bottles are the best as they not only support their interoceptive system (thirst) but also their oral and gustatory system (straw, sucking, taste, etc.).
9. Stick to the same, predictable routine. Provide a visual schedule of routine if child
continues to demonstrate challenges completing entire routine.
10. Avoid electronics at least 2 hours prior to bedtime.
11. Forecast the nights events including nighttime routine and what happens after we go to sleep. What will mom and dad be doing? Why do we sleep? Who else will be sleeping?
12. For more strategies check out the book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth M.D.