Tips to Improve Sleep for Children with Special Needs

by Krista Harper

Getting quality sleep can be difficult for children with special needsThe importance of sufficient quality sleep on child development has been known, at least instinctively, for centuries. For children with special needs, a solid sleep hygiene routine is just as, if not more, important than for a child without special needs. Children with developmental disabilities often suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. This can make life for both parent and child significantly more challenging and can result in difficulty sleeping for parents as well.

Why Are Children with Special Needs More Prone to Sleep Disorders?

Disabilities like autism, ADHD, and Down Syndrome put children at a higher risk for certain sleep disorders, and some prescription medications can have the side effect of difficulty sleeping. In this post, we’ll look at how disabilities may be affecting your child with special needs, as well as five best practices to ensure that both you and your little one get plenty of healthy Z’s.

Common Special Needs and Sleep Disorder Relationships

Healthy sleep hygiene is critical to a good night’s sleep. Here are some good sleep habits you can adopt to help your child settle down for bedtime each night, sleep well, and have the energy they need to learn throughout the day.

  1. Develop a Personalized Wind-Down Routine
    When creating a wind-down routine, what is effective for your child’s disability is important to consider, as well as what works for your child personally. Pinpoint the types of activities that calm your child and incorporate them into your child’s bedtime routine. This can include a warm bath, a calming matching game, or other relaxation techniques.
  2. Create a Sleepy Bedroom Environment
    No matter how much you’ve put into a consistent wind-down routine for you and your child, success can be quickly squelched if your child’s bedroom is cluttered, brightly lit, or not conducive to sleep in other ways. In addition, ensure that your child has any special bedding to make them feel extra secure, such as a weighted blanket.
  3. Avoid Foods that Interfere with Sleep
    Certain types of foods can make it difficult to sleep, as well as heavy meals, sugar, or caffeine. Also avoid spicy foods close to bedtime. It’s best to have a light snack, no less than 30 minutes before bedtime. Examples of sleep-friendly snacks include a piece of whole wheat toast or apple slices with almond butter, or a half a cup of cereal with soy milk.
  4. Limit Screen Time
    The blue light from phone, tablet, and computer screens may seem to calm your child during the day, but screen time shouldn’t become a crutch at bedtime. The familiarity of a tech activity may be inviting for your child at bedtime, but screen time in the evening can actually trigger your child’s brain to detect daytime and the more energetic activities associated with it.
  5. Join the Essential Oil Bandwagon
    Certain plant essential oils are effective for creating a calm and relaxing environment. These oils can be used before and during sleep via an essential oil diffuser. Relaxing oils can also be applied to your child’s wrists before bedtime, as well as when they escalate during the day or before a stress-inducing activity.