Sweet Dreams

One of the best ways to help your child is to make sure he or she gets a good night’s sleep. Well-rested children are more attentive, have a more positive mood, and learn more quickly. Most experts agree that children between ages 3 and 5 need 10-12 hours of sleep while kids between ages 7 to 12 need 9-10 hours.

Unfortunately many children with sensory processing difficulties (and their parents!) do not sleep well. Exhausted children do not think, behave, and learn at their best, and being tired makes it even harder to deal with sensory challenges. Persistent sleep disturbances result in higher levels of stress hormones, irregular biorhythms, decreased attention and cognitive skills, and heightened overall arousal because the body compensates to combat sleepiness. Children with sensory problems may lack adequate rest for many reasons such as because they:

There are many theories and books on fostering sleep in children. I usually recommend Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Sometimes parents need some extra help from a sleep specialist, especially if the child snores to rule out sleep apnea or other physical conditions that may be interfering with sleep.

For children with sensory processing issues, usually some fairly simple changes make a big difference in the quality and quantity of their sleep. Here are a few ideas:

Certain medications and foods may interfere with sleep. Consult your pediatrician if your child is taking medicine (antihistamines, mood stabilizers, etc.) and his or her sleeping habits have changed. In general, avoid giving your child caffeine (chocolate, hot cocoa, ice tea, Coke/Pepsi/Mountain Dew) because it interferes with sleep.

You may also want to consult with your doctor about using a melatonin supplement, which is hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.