Tuesday, July 20, 2010


If you are the parent of a special needs, sensory sensitive child, perhaps you have forgotten what it is like to get a good night's sleep. Sleep is elusive when your child jumps at every sound, and the slightest temperature change can cause wake-fullness at inopportune times.

When my son was born, I was told "sleep when the baby sleeps." This was hard as he never slept, except on and off through the night. Naps were rare and short, and I lived in a bleary-eyed haze, much like I believe zombies exist. Ryan would not sleep. He was always awake and always clingy.

Ryan also had feeding problems, I tried desperately to nurse and he never did quite get the hang of it. At the time I was thinking we were like many new moms and infants that had trouble nursing. He could not latch on, I tried everything. Lactation consultants, nipple guards, soothing music, wrapping him like a burrito...nothing worked. We would nurse for an hour, half would leak out of his mouth and thirty minutes later, we were back nursing again. He could not get full, and I was a wreck.

So this blog is not about feeding...it is about sleeping. So let me skip to the point of the feeding part.

I was desperate one day, and opened up a bottle of the formula the hospital gave me. I fed it to Ryan and 10 minutes later, miracle! He was sleeping. Did this solve our sleep problem for good, no...but it led me to a pattern of things that did, eventually, fix the sleeping issues.

If your child is very very young....great. You can start then to teach them how to sleep. A sensory kid will not be able to cry themselves down...they will just stay up. It will be 3 a.m. and they will still be out of control. The cry it out solution does not work. don't listen to grandma or your doctor on this one...trust your instincts. Crying it out causes more stress to build up in the fight or flight mechanism and floods your child with cortisol and adrenalin. Not good sleep inducers. They will be out of sorts the entire next day.

So what do you do?

1. Get a black out curtain and remove the outside lights from the room. There should be no street lights coming in or morning sun to wake them. Roman shades are great, or you can duct tape a black trash bag to the window and cover with curtains. SPD kids are very light sensitive and it will cause a waking.

2. Get a sound machine. They are around 16 dollars and you can get them at Bed Bath and Beyond or almost any electronic store. Find a white noise setting that covers up any outside noise.

3. Make sure the room is cool. 69 degrees is the best sleep temperature for anyone. Cold room, warm covers. If the child kicks the covers off..get some footed warm fleece pajamas. Cold child- and they will wake.

4. Fill their tummy with good food before bed. No sugar. Cereal is usually good as well as oatmeal. No cookies. Sugar causes waking. Red dyes cause sensitive bladders. No cranberry juice...sensitive bladder again.

5. Not much liquid right before bed. So they don't have accidents if they are potty trained and they don't have to walk to the bathroom during the night.

6. get a green nightlight. the white ones are too bright.

7. Pajamas need to be loose and breathable. No tags! socks need to be seam free if they wear them to bed. And skip the underwear...it binds and is uncomfortable and unnecessary under PJ's.

8. routines are great with any child, but especially the SPD kid. Bath with epsom salts, then snack, then story, then brush teeth, then bed. or whatever order you choose. Do it that way every single night.

9. Bedtime needs to be the same every night. No staying up late on weekends. This is hard for some parents, but the childs' system will be more in tune if the bedtime is the same every night.

10. Be patient. it will take your sensory child more time to adjust to going to sleep by themselves. Make sure they have an animal, doll, blanket etc. You can also try a weighted blanket or brushing right before bed to help them calm. Sometimes I mash Ryan under pillows right before bed...he calms down!

11. go outside some every day if you can. The more outside time and the more exercise the child gets, the better and deeper the sleep. Swimming is excellent as it provides that deep pressure as well as cooling the body, which enhances the sleep cycle.

There is not a one size fits everyone sleep system. You will have setbacks and you will feel frustrated. Don't give up! When your child goes calmly to bed and is rested the next day, it will all be worth it!

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