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Sensory and Sleep

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Kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD) may also struggle with sleep. We all understand the importance of a good night’s rest, and you have probably seen a difference in your child when they get a good night’s sleep vs not. 

Is there a connection between sensory and sleep? How do we help to improve sleep for those with SPD? Parents are often looking for help and advice on how to get their kids to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get better sleep in general. 

The connection between sensory and sleep

Those with SPD can become dysregulated during the day. They are taking in a variety of sensory input and if they are struggling to process it accurately this can also result in difficulties with self-regulation. This may look like, shutting down, meltdowns, difficulties following directions, etc. 

If a child is dysregulated during the day or leading up to bedtime, we can see how it might be challenging to settle down and fall asleep. 

If you have a seeker they tend to need more sensory input during the day to meet their needs. They may still be trying to fulfill their sensory needs when it’s time for bed, which would make it difficult for them to fall asleep. 

For an avoider, they may be overstimulated by the sensory input they have received during the day. They may feel overwhelmed and dysregulated, again making it difficult to settle down and sleep. 

First understanding your child and their sensory needs will help you better understand how to help them with their sleep. Start here to learn more about SPD and how it affects people differently. 

Once you have an understanding of your child’s sensory needs, develop a sensory diet to perform daily. We always recommend finding an occupational or physical therapist who specializes in SPD to help with this. This is a great first step in assisting them to be more regulated at night time, allowing them to fall asleep easier. 

Sleep suggestions

Other tips to help your child with SPD fall asleep easier. 

  • Create a routine. Work to establish a routine around bedtime. Perform the same activities around the same time. After doing this for a period of time, it will start to trigger your child that it is time to settle down and go to sleep. 
  • Keep bedtime and wake-up time as consistent as you can. Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily helps to set your internal clock, which will help to establish a better routine around sleep. 
  • Perform static (still) heavy work such as yoga or stretching.
  • Perform skin brushing or joint compressions.
  • Learn deep breathing and perform nightly as part of the routine. Read more about deep breathing here
  • Look into and possibly get a weighted blanket or compression sheets for your child’s bed.
  • Improve the environment to allow for an easier transition to sleep by lowing lights 1 hour before bedtime, and eliminating screens 1-2 hours before bed. 

There are a lot of things you can do to help your child get better sleep. It will get better but it often takes time to establish new routines around sleep and get your child’s circadian rhythm more balanced. 

Of course, if you’re concerned that other factors are affecting your child’s sleep make sure to talk with their pediatrician.

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