We spend a third of our lives sleeping — or we should, if we get the recommended eight hours of rest a night. And while everyone enjoys the R&R of a good night’s sleep, we often have a hard time getting to sleep. This can be especially true of children with special needs.
Without the necessary amount of sleep, a student sacrifices solid academic performance and the ability to healthily socialize and engage with others. A continual lack of sleep, as the NIH found, can impact memory, weight, reaction time and overall functioning. If you feel your child is having a hard time getting a full night’s sleep, take a look at these pointers so you — and your child — can enjoy more Z’s.
Zap their energy
Just as a good evening workout can help adults crash into bed at the end of the day, so can one final energy push with children. Play with them as the sun is setting — if the weather is nice, go on a little walk, take them to a park, or utilize your backyard or playset. Let them unleash any pent-up energy so that, when the time comes, they are more likely to be “wound down” and ready for rest. Please note that this “end of the day” exercise shouldn’t be vigorous, as that tends to raise internal body temperature and adversely affect anyone’s ability to sleep.
Nix late-night sugar
We all love midnight snacks, but we must be aware of their effects on sleep. Sugar adds a pep to our step, which may not be ideal late in the evening. Similarly, if your child is having difficulty getting to bed, you may want to consider feeding them at an earlier time. As the National Sleep Foundation recommends, “Don’t eat…within a few hours of your bedtime.” If your child’s bedtime is at 9 PM, try having dinner at 6 PM so they have plenty of time to digest and “come down” from the energy food enables.
Comfort your child
It’s not uncommon for children to wake up in the middle of the night, and they will often crawl into your bed or ask you to come to theirs, seeking comfort and a warm body. Try whispering to them, rubbing their back, or massaging their body to induce relaxation and eventual sleep. Weighted blankets can also very helpful as they help the “brain release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, ultimately improving mood and encouraging relaxation.” Lull them calmly to bed — remember, sleep is food for the brain!
Establishing a bedtime routine can also be very helpful to encourage a smooth transition into bed. Choose a favorite bedtime story, listen to soothing music and be consistent with the time your child goes to bed. The familiar routine you and your child are comfortable with will help create an environment that decreases any bedtime anxiety and helps promote sleep.
Lead with your child’s preferences
Every child is different, and each might have different fabrics, toys, or scents that relax them. Lead with what your child prefers and capitalize on items that provide a sense of comfort. Create a bedroom space that invites your child to cuddle up in bed and relax. A treasured cuddly toy, favorite blanket or pajamas should always be on hand.
Need be, seek a doctor’s help
If you are concerned about a repeated cycle of sleep deprivation, consider speaking with a professional. According to The Cleveland Clinic, medications are usually not recommended for children and adolescents with insomnia and are used only in very special circumstances. It is much more important to look for any underlying medical or psychological problems that may need to be treated first. It is of utmost importance that you work closely with your doctor when considering any medication, supplement, or natural remedy that you may be considering giving your child. Also, consult with your child’s physician regarding any current medications your child may be taking. Adjusting the time your child takes medication may be of help.
 “Teens Need More Sleep Than You Think – Your … – The Sleep Doctor.” 30 Mar. 2017, https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/03/30/teens-need-sleep-think/. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.
 “12 Sleep Tips for Kids with Special Needs—from Real Parents | Parents.” https://www.parents.com/health/special-needs-now/9-sleep-tips-for-kids-with-special-needs-from-real-parents/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.
 “Insomnia in Children Management and Treatment | Cleveland Clinic.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14301-insomnia-in-children/management-and-treatment. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.