At least once a week, I hear bedtime woes from clients: ‚ÄúMy daughter is never tired at bedtime‚Äù or ‚ÄúMy son takes hours to fall asleep.‚Äù Given that a child‚Äôs development relies on restorative sleep patterns, these concerns about bedtime are more than matters of convenience. Unhealthy sleep patterns can cause behavioral issues, changes in appetite and difficulty acquiring new skills, to name a few things.
To improve bedtime, tap into your child‚Äôs sensory system. Children with atypical sensory processing or modulation can have an even harder time calming themselves for bed. I recently attended a course titled Effective Neurological Management of Sensory Processing Disorder presented by Charlene Young, OTR/L, CEAS. In this course, Young provided some fresh, useful sensory suggestions to prepare your child for bedtime whether they have sensory difficulties or not. Here are some of her suggestions as well as my tried-and-true methods to improve bedtime routines:
To get to sleep
- Move your body. Before the bedtime routine even begins, make sure that the child has used his energy. Try to do 10-20 minutes of: 1) movement (running, jumping, skipping, rolling) and 2) heavy work (muscle work ‚Äì e.g. carrying laundry baskets, rearranging chairs after dinner, doing wall push ups). The movement will get out the child‚Äôs energy and the heavy work will reorganize his system.
- Stick to a routine. All children — and most adults — find comfort in routines. When you prepare for bedtime with the same steps every night ‚Äì school night, weekend night, or summertime ‚Äì you will put your child at ease. Consider using a picture schedule to help both you and your little one stay on track. A picture schedule also helps remind mom and dad – even grandma and grandpa – of the routine.
- Put down the iPad. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue lights in electronics facilitate wakefulness. Also, fluorescent lighting can negatively affect the nervous system. Turn these lights off before bedtime or, if needed, cover in green tissue paper to better calm.
- Cool the body. Bathe your child in a hot bath for about 20 minutes. The drop in body temperature that follows when you take him out of the bath will calm his body.
To stay asleep
- Lower the thermostat. Just as a drop in body temperature calms, cooler temperatures at night can help the body regulated and asleep. Cooling pillows are also a good option.
- Left ear to the wall. Position your child‚Äôs left ear next to the wall to decrease noise. The right ear needs to remain accessible to access the left side of the brain, which is the language-based area.
- Turn off the nightlight. Complete darkness facilitates melatonin production and aids with sleep
If you child still cannot regulate his sleep patterns, there may be a more significant medical issue. Consult your pediatrician and/or occupational therapist.