Quality sleep is crucial for quality functioning, and yet we are a sleep-deprived culture. Adults drink coffee and push themselves past their tiredness, while children will naturally push themselves to be more alert and then not be able to calm down. Kids with sensory issues usually have poor self-regulation, meaning they can't easily bring themselves from one state of alertness to another. When tired or feeling lethargic, they will rev up to a hyperactive state and remain there. They may even endanger themselves as they get toward bedtime and become more giddy and unmindful of where their body is in relation to people and objects. Accidents are more likely to happen just before bedtime when kids are getting wired as they are getting tired.
For safety's sake, and to get kids in bed on time to get the necessary amount of sleep, begin the bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before their actual bedtime, if not longer. A few minutes between the announcement that it is time to go to sleep and lights out is not enough time for a sensory child's body to adjust. Turn off the television and DVD early; both are hypnotizing, and the minutes will slip away as he watches "just this last scene" and the next, and the next.
Dim the lights. The bright lighting that is right for playing with toys in the bedroom is too stimulating before bed. Read bedtime stories by lamplight not by the overhead light.
Stick to a routine. Make sure teeth are brushed, bath is over with (note that bathtime at night is too stimulating for some sensory kids), and pajamas are on before settling in to bed. This way, you can avoid a struggle over him having to jump out of bed to brush in front of the sink. Let your child pick a favorite story or nonfiction book. You might also talk about the events of the day in a positive way. For instance, if your child pitched a fit after school because she had to go to the dentist, talk it through and validate her feelings, and have a short discussion on how to make things easier the next time she has an appointment. Help her to go to sleep believing that tomorrow she will do better, with your support.
Think about blocking out background noise. Close doors so she can't hear the television or a conversation going on in another room.Consider using a fan (not necessarily blowing on your child, just "on"), aquarium, white noise machine, soft music, or even a radio turned to static to block out background noise that will keep her awake.
Provide deep pressure input. It may help to massage her limbs, squeezing them gently and then releasing, to calm her body. You can teach her to tighten her muscles, then release them, body part by body part, in order to self-calm any time she needs to go from an alert to calm, or sleeping, state. She may need hugging, pillows pressed against her, or a weighted blanket to help her body to fall asleep. If you want to use a weighted blanket, consult a sensory smart OT about the proper weight and use. Or, use heavy cotton blankets, if they don't make your child too warm.
All of these strategies will help your child with sensory issues relax his system and have an easier time going from an alert to a calm, then asleep, state.
Copyright (c) 2010 Nancy Peske
Nancy Peske is the coauthor of the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. She blogs about parenting kids with SPD and sends out a weekly newsletter of practical tips for parents and professionals who work with children who have sensory processing issues, available via her website http://www.sensorysmartparent.com
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