Sleep, slumber, snoozing, shut-eye – whatever you call it, our nightly routine of switching off and shutting down is arguably one of the most important aspects that can impact on our overall functioning. Ever had a great night sleep? I bet you woke feeling refreshed and ready for the day – optimal functioning level achieved! Sleep is important for both caregivers and children. Below is a list of our top 5 tips that may assist your child in falling into that sweet slumber*…
1) Routine, routine, routine.
Setting a routine is important for our circadian rhythm – our body’s inner clock which gives us the necessary signals to wake in the morning and become sleepy at night. Sticking to a similar sleep/wake cycle and setting an age appropriate sleep time can further strengthen this rhythm, making it easier to fall and stay asleep at night. Our clock doesn’t stop at the weekend, so to maximise the effect it is important to maintain a regular sleep pattern 7 days a week. Getting plenty day light exposure early in the day can also assist in promoting sleep at night.
2) Relaxation station
Try to schedule as much relaxation time as possible in the half hour before bed to help ‘switch off’ by completing activities that your child enjoys and finds relaxing; such as colouring, reading, deep pressure activities or listening to soft music. A visual or written schedule of the activities can be useful to keep on track and tick off when completed, allowing your child to take note that bedtime is approaching. Try to avoid ‘alerting activities’ such as listening to upbeat music and vigorous movements (e.g. rough play, exercise) in the hour before bed.
3) Tech Free Zone
Screen time can significantly impact on your ability to snooze. Exposure to screens can be alerting due to the blue light exposure and stimulating content (e.g. if playing a game or watching a colourful cartoon) – which can suppress sleep. Try to avoid screen time one hour before bed; this includes TV, iPads, mobile phones and computers. Avoid having technology in the room overnight that might sound when alerts or messages come through. When making use of screen time, do so in an environment away from the bedroom.
4) Sleep Environment
A busy room can equal a busy mind. Try to keep the bedroom for sleep and rest only and encourage other activities such as playing or watching TV to be completed elsewhere. This will allow the mind to begin to associate the bedroom with sleep, meaning when we transition to this space at night, we know nigh, nigh is on the way. Removing clutter, visual distractions and having a clean, cosy and quiet space will promote relaxation. Avoid bright lights; items such as dimmer switches or night lights can help create a calming atmosphere.
5) Speak with your occupational therapist
Your occupational therapist will be able to discuss and provide strategies to assist sleep that are tailored specifically for your child. Examples include sensory activities to promote relaxation and regulate arousal levels and the use of weighted sensory equipment if required.
- Be conscious of caffeine containing foods and beverages and limit intake of these after midday.
- Equipment** such as a white noise sleep machine (available from https://www.amazon.com.au/Machine-Sleep-Soothing-Quality-Adjustable/dp/B07LGG6K66/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1AW3PIAH9MWBS&keywords=white+noise+sleep+machine&qid=1574654589&sprefix=white+noise+slee%2Caps%2C315&sr=8-2) or Gro clock (https://www.gro-store.com.au/groclock.html) can be useful to assist sleep.
- Promote ample exercise throughout the day (with calming activities in the evening)
- Support the child in falling asleep on their own to assist them in also doing so should they also wake at night.
- Consider using a morning reward chart (e.g. if your child fell asleep in or around their bedtime)
*Strategies discussed are designed for general use and not tailored to the specific needs of your child.
** Products are examples only.
References: Reed HE, McGrew SG, Artibee K, et al. Parent-based sleep education workshops in autism. J Child Neurol. 2009; 24:936-945.