Getting Special Needs Kids to Sleep (and a reminder)

Today’s post is brought to you by National Go Red for Women Day. They didn’t pay me or anything, but I think it’s important enough to post about it. Today’s the day! In case you haven’t heard of it, Go Red Day is designed to remind us all that heart disease is the number one killer of women–it actually effects more women then all forms of cancer combined. One in three women has cardiovascular disease. Probably most importantly there are a ton of easy things you can do to lower your risks: exercise regularly, quit smoking (if you do), eat healthy, and visit your doctor once a year. I know it’s hard as a mom to remember to put yourself first, but seriously, take care of your heart–you need it to do all the things you do.

graphic reading "Little Joy Map"

So, about sleep. Janet asked me about sleep with regards to her special needs child and I didn’t have as much information as I wanted, so I figured it was a blog post in the making. I did some research and also thought about my own kids, and today I’m giving you seven good suggestions for special needs kids and sleep.

  1. Melatonin may be an issue. Research shows that kids on the spectrum have issues with melatonin production–they produce it at the wrong times and then don’t produce it at night the way they are supposed to. Scientists don’t know why. Talk to your doctor about it, but a melatonin supplement (I’ve heard great things about the time-release formulas) may help your child fall asleep at the appropriate times.
  2. Other medication aren’t nearly so helpful. All children are different of course! But Charlie’s sleep deteriorated for about a year and we were relying more and more on medication to help him sleep or go back to sleep. For a variety of reasons, we ended up quitting cold turkey (except his seizure meds). We had some rough going, but now he falls asleep on time and mostly sleeps through the night. When he does wake it’s usually more of an hour early thing than a screaming at 3 AM thing. Most of the books I read about sleep said pretty much the same thing. Food for thought at any rate.
  3. Try a weighted blanket. These can help kids feel more settled. I know I love it when we get to bust out the heavy quilts, so it’s easy to imagine that children find this soothing.
  4. Look for sensory stumbling blocks. Kids with sensory issues may be unable to sleep because they are bothered by an unwanted texture. Remove tags from pajamas, buy extra-comfy sheets, and purchase pajamas a size up reduce cling.
  5. Get rigid in your routine. The most common cause of failure to fall asleep is an unstable before-bed routine. If your child struggles with this, make sure the routine is rock solid.
  6. Dim lights in the house thirty minutes before bed. This can help remind the body to start producing melatonin, which makes us sleepy. This is especially important for kids on the Autism spectrum because their bodies may have difficulty releasing melatonin at appropriate times.
  7. If you have a child with tight muscles, make sure to eliminate any spaces between them and the bed. For example, if you child has tight hamstrings that make it hard for them to straighten their legs completely, roll a towel to put underneath their knees. This will help keep them comfortable through the night. You might also try a small pillow between their knees if they like to lie on their side. They do make special mattress for kiddos with spasticity issues, but they are crazy-expensive and I hate to even imagine what an insurance company would say.

That’s what I learned this week. What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting special kids off to sleep?

These two guys picked up a ear/nose/eye infection. Poor babies.

These two guys picked up a ear/nose/eye infection. Poor babies.

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