"Sleep – What’s that?" "chance would be a fine thing!" "if only!"
Sleep is a natural behaviour, we all do it. We all need it. For many families with disabled children – Sleep may be limited, or even considered a luxury by some.
Many parents and carers of disabled children and young people come to us (me) exhausted. Lack of good quality sleep is making life so much harder for the whole family.
The child or young person, parents, carers and siblings are physically and mentally worn out, a never-ending cycle of finding everyday tasks harder to do, have less concentration, feel run down, health may be suffering, we feel constantly on edge and unable to fully relax. Everyone is irritable, small problems become major issues, anxieties escalate quickly. Senses are heightened, Sensory systems become dysregulated, moods change. Emotions spill over. We may get angry, sad, resentful – the red mist descends. It is absolutely exhausting!
Life is not a dream – as the song says….cos’ .to dream you first need some sleep!
It does not have to be this way. With a bit of help, some well thought out tips and strategies and a few well-chosen resources –sleep quality and quantity can be improved for many of us. Believe me I’ve been there – got the T Shirt - and came out the other side in one piece!
First, we need to be ‘detectives’ we need to look at the whole child or young person who is struggling to sleep. We need to look at their individual needs in a holistic way.
‘’Oh yeah – and now in the real world”..
We know that there are recommendations that tell us children should have a certain amount of sleep each night – the number of hours usually depends on age. However, for families such as mine those recommendations may not be realistic, the number of recommended hours may not be achievable for all of us – but we can make things better, and the best they can be for our own child or young person.
As mentioned earlier – the detective work’ begins….
We know sleep is a behaviour – we also know that all behaviour happens for a reason – let's have a think about that…
Keeping a thorough sleep diary will help – this can be time consuming I know, but it is very useful to look at whatever is happening before, during and after Sleep in as much detail as possible to find those ‘clues’ to ultimately solve the sleep issues. You can find one on page 17 of the Contact FREE downloadable PDF - Helping your Child Sleep
Writing things down and recording each night in this way will also remind us of things that we may not have fully noticed are happening – after all we are exhausted and it is very easy to spot some signs of possible unrest or anxiety and dysregulation in our little cherubs!
The bigger picture for sleep
Think about what is happening each day in the life of your child. So, do they go to nursery/school? What is that like for them? Are they getting the support needed there? Are their holistic needs supported there?
For example some children find school to be stressful and may feel unable to concentrate due to some unmet sensory needs – maybe some reasonable adjustments may help – look at our website for ideas such as Fidget Foot Roller, Bouncyband, Ear Defenders, Fidget toys that can help aid concentration. Maybe your child cannot wear seams in clothing which distracts from their learning and makes them feel physically uncomfortable – look at seamless clothing.
What’s your childs diet like? Can they feed themselves – do they need some help with this? (fledglings cutlery/plates/bibs etc) Are they still hungry by bedtime?
Does your child struggle with communication?
Think about Toileting needs too – everything that happens during the day will have some sort of impact on the evening and your childs sleep in some way.
Remember every behaviour happens for a reason – not settling, and not sleeping happens for a reason.
We need to think about the whole of the day to help the whole of the night.
‘Is it bedtime yet?’
Unpicking all of the reasons for being unable to sleep may take some time – and some methodical reorganization of some stuff for your child. However, there are some practical easy steps that can help to make things better now – and then later when added to the bigger stuff will make lots of difference.
Consistency of the bedtime routine is key.
See page 8 of the guide ‘Making the bedroom a relaxing place’ for some fantastic tips that really do work.
Look at our Waterproof Mattress/VDA Washable Bed Pad for children who are not yet toilet trained or prone to nighttime enuresis and All-In-One Zip Back Cotton Pyjamas for children who may smear. Look at the Compression Bed Sock and Weighted Blankets depending on your childs sensory needs. To help make the room relaxing and calm – see Nature Sound Pyramid.
Remember that the bedroom should be for Sleep only.
No Toys. No TV. No devices but remember, if your child struggles to let go of the gadgets there are things you can try sand timers/now and next symbols/visual prompts.