Tips to help with sleep problems for children

Many children have difficulties with sleep. This may be greater in children with learning difficulties or needing some additional support.

This can be exhausting for the family as well as leaving the child with disturbed nights’ sleep.

It helps to start to think about where the specific challenges are relating to sleep:

  • Going to bed
  • Getting off to sleep
  • Waking in the night
  • Sensory issues
  • Fear of sleep/darkness or other fears

Going to bed

It is important to establish good sleep routines so your child has clear social cues about what happens.

  • Create a regular bed time routine and waking time where possible, Try to ensure where possible, especially when the child is young to have tea/bath/bed at the same time each day.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coca cola/tea/coffee which may stimulate your child.
  • Reduce stimulating play leading up to bed.
  • Switch off computers and TVs that may be stimulating and exciting the child if possible.
  • Encourage your child to have a warm bath.
  • Make sure the child is not thirsty.
  • Make sure the child has been to the toilet before bedtime (unless they are still in nappies).
  • Tell a consistent story before your child goes to sleep so the child links this to bed time.
  • Ensure the room is dark or have a small night light if your child is frightened of the night.
  • Provide a comfort blanket or special toy if this helps your child to remain calm and reassured.

(Some children may benefit from a period of hyper-activity to then help them settle e.g. on a trampoline or running around, but try and do this before the bed time routine starts if possible).

 

Getting off to sleep

  • Tell a consistent and favourite story before your child goes to sleep so the child links this to bed time.
  • As they get older and if they can read, they can read themselves a story.
  • Ensure the room is dark or have a small night light if your child is frightened of the night.
  • Play some music each night to settle your child

 

Waking in the night

  • Maintain a routine if your child wakes in the night. Avoid having a conversation or making it interesting to wake.
  • Reassure your child and return them to bed.
  • Avoid or reduce day time napping if your child is a toddler so your child is sufficiently physically tired.
  • Try and increase exercise during the day if possible so they can be physically tired.

 

Sensory issues

  • Avoid fabric softener or washing powders that may be perfumed.
  • Cotton bedding may be preferred in terms of texture.
  • Check and remove any labels on pyjamas etc. that may irritate the child.
  • Check fastenings and trouser bottoms to ensure they are not too tight or causing irritation.
  • Some children may prefer having a weighted blanket rather than a duvet. This has not directly been shown to aid sleep, but may feel more comfortable for some children.

Fear of sleep/darkness or other fears

  • Your child may be more anxious and be worrying about something. Try and discuss with them what this may be if they are able to do so but do this not just before they are going to bed.
  • Reassure your child and take their fears seriously.
  • A small night light can make a difference.
  • Avoid TV, computer games that may stimulate your child before bed time.