Sleep problems are highly common among children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). In fact, around 80% of children with additional needs experience sleep issues of some kind. So, if you’re a parent of a SEND child or young adult and sleep issues are a problem in your household, rest assured that you are not alone in this experience. Continue reading to find out more about children’s sleep problems.
What is causing your children’s sleep problems?
Children and teenagers’ sleep problems can usually be attributed to one or more factors. The key to improving the situation and their quality of sleep (as well as yours) is getting to the bottom of it. It’s important to identify what the cause of the child’s sleep struggles are in order to strategise an effective solution.
Quite often, there are any number of reasons why a child or young adult may be struggling to sleep. It could be that they have trouble falling to sleep or they will constantly wake through the night. It could be caused by any of the following:
- Sensory issues
- Pre-bedtime activities
- Bedroom environment
- Temperature regulation
Figuring out exactly what the problem behind the sleep struggles is the first step to solving the issue.
Steps to improve children’s sleep problems
There are a number of steps you can take to attempt to fix your children’s sleep problems. These include preparation for bedtime, consistency in your approach day-to-day, and limiting the number of naps taken throughout the day.
Whatever the complexity of your child’s needs, to combat a poor sleep pattern you must instil some sort of routine. A proper bedtime routine is important for supporting your child’s body clock and ensuring they get enough rest overnight.
First of all, it’s a good idea to set a bedtime that you stick to every night. This helps their body settle into a pattern.
Try to encourage them to wake up at the same set time every morning too, as this also helps your child’s body clock. You shouldn’t limit this to just the weekdays, though. It should be incorporated into the routine at the weekend as well.
Some children need support to understand the difference between night and day. It can be useful to avoid language around dark and light, and instead refer to night and day. Visual timetables can also be used in the daytime to let your child know what time of day it is. A piece of music each evening can also be a good indication that bedtime is approaching.
Everybody sleeps in cycles and can partially wake during the night to check the time or use the bathroom. Quite often, children are unaware of what time it is when they wake through the night. Using something like a lamp on a timer can show them that when the lamp is off, it is night time. This indicates to them that it’s not time to get out of bed yet.
Consistency is key when it comes to ensuring a good night’s sleep for your child. If your child is waking through the night, it’s important to figure out what’s changing that could wake them up. For some children, they may fall asleep to the sound of the television and the sound of it switching off may wake them. For others, they might fall asleep next to a parent and wake to find them not there anymore.
It’s important to set a condition at bedtime that will remain consistent through the night to ensure a constant sleep. Consistency also comes in the form of a pre-bedtime routine. Keeping up with a routine you’ve put in place is integral.
Is your child having a nap later in the afternoon because of a bad night’s sleep? This may actually be what’s behind the bad sleep at night, setting a constant cycle of poor sleep and late afternoon naps.
As children get older the need for a nap is reduced, so try and break their cycle of afternoon naps. This may improve their sleep pattern as they’ll be more tired by the time bedtime comes around.
Setting the right bedroom environment is also important in ensuring your child has a good, constant sleep. A bedroom should be around 18 degrees celsius. Consider any sensory needs they have too when choosing bedding, nightwear and curtains. Some children prefer to be in complete darkness at night while others would like some light in their surroundings. If this is the case, a small night light can add a touch of light to the room.
Sleep support at Seashell
At Seashell, we can help with children’s sleep problems and teenagers’ sleep problems. Our sleep support is tailored to your child’s needs and can help them and you to achieve consistently good sleep.