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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  1. Great post, Katy! Another medication related point: Targeted Dosing. Most of Bertrand’s seizures were sleep-related and his seizure meds made him sleepy during the day. So, we spoke with his neurologist about “targeted dosing”. (It’s gaining popularity among neurologists.) Bertrand gets the same amount of seizure medication as before, but most of it is administered with dinner, so it gets his night seizures (which also means he sleeps better since he isn’t woken up by seizures). And since he doesn’t get as much medication in the morning, he isn’t drowsy during the day. It’s been a double whammy in daytime alertness for him. :)

    • That is a great point! We only give seizure meds at night. Giving them in the morning would give us zombie Charlie.

  2. the weighted blanket has been a great help to a friend of mines and her son. Great advice

  3. Great article. Our son has special needs and major sleep issues. Not only does he not sleep without meds (we use Melatonin and Trazodone) but he also escapes if he wakes up during the night. To combat this we found a lifesaver…The Safety Sleeper. It’s a fully enclosed bed that zips shut at night. We call it his tent. He loves it!! We were first introduced to this in the hospital because his behavior was so bad that they were worried he would hurt himself. I then found the Safety Sleeper online when we got home. It is mesh, fully breathable, and I love that in case of a fire (my hubby is a fireman) I could tell the fire department exactly where he is.

    We have weighted blankets as well and my son loves the pressure. Lighting is a big issue at our house as well as he does not like anything bright.

    Routine is so important and he has to have his Taylor Swift CD on song #2 on repeat before he will even think about going to bed.

    I find that if we mess with meds, it creates a scenario where he may not sleep for days at a time (we don’t try this often! LOL!)

    Thanks again for sharing and I hope if anyone is having trouble keeping their child in their bed, the Safety Sleeper is an answer (they work with insurance companies too!!)

  4. Katy, Here is the link to The Safety Sleeper! Rose is wonderful to work with.