Any child can have a hard time getting to sleep, but for parents of children with special needs, bedtime can be particularly difficult.
What should be a pretty simple concept of putting a child to bed can become an ongoing series of night upon night of stress and anxiety that makes bedtime a source of nothing that resembles rest at all.
Now, we have not solved all of the sleep problems in our family by any means, but we have learned some things that I hope will be helpful for you, wherever you are along this path of parenthood and whether you have a special needs child or not. In fact, all of us could use more sleep these days, so read on — no matter your age or your stage :-)!
Trouble Sleeping in Our Home
This has been an ongoing problem that started when our oldest was still an infant. He would not sleep for any period longer than 30 minutes at a stretch in any given night. And typically the total amount of sleep that I got was only 5 hours.
I was a zombie.
When that same child was about 6 years old, we would put him to bed only to have him come out over-and-over-and-over again, telling us that he just couldn't sleep. And that would go on until midnight or later, when we all finally collapsed. Not a good recipe for family peace.
I know, most people would just say, “Why don't you just put him in his room and tell him that he'll get a punishment for coming out or a reward for staying in. For us, the anxiety that resulted was simply untenable.
We've done a bit of work in this area. And these days, our son needs someone in the same room with him, but he at least gets to sleep quickly.
So while it is not a perfect situation, we are all getting approximately what we need in the sleep department — and that works for us.
Possible Causes for Trouble Sleeping
1. Physical Disturbances
Special needs children often have heightened sensitivities. What might be a non-issue to a typical child might be a “big deal” to a special needs child. As such, you may need to pay special attention to the physical aspects of your child's bedroom.
It turned out that our son's frequent wakings were due to food allergies. When he was nursing, I was eating foods that he was allergic to as a result he had horrible eczema. Once we had testing done and the foods were eliminated (completely!!), the itching stopped and he slept.
Sleeping in a room that is too cold or too hot can cause anyone's sleep to be disturbed. Maintaining a comfortable sleeping temperature can be a big help. Also, cold feet can be a big problem, so if your child's bedroom is a bit cold, make sure that you try having your child wear socks, in particular, to insure a good night's sleep.
Due to their sensitivity, all noises may make it hard for your child to sleep. A simple fan or air filter can provide white noise to make sleep come more easily. In our son's room, we have a simple white noise maker.
2. Emotional Disturbances
We all know that stress disturbs sleep. Here are some possible causes and remedies.
Anxiety from all sources can cause problems in slumber-land. Our son has gotten worked up from many things, but mainly from family stress and frightening reading material. Reducing how much stress your child is exposed to and limiting exposure to material that may be frightening is a big help. Even material that may not be ostensibly frightening but can cause mental confusion (like fantasy stories) can be too much for some children to handle. For obvious reasons, violent and occult media content should be completely avoided.
This is one area that, together with anxiety, has been hard for us to curb. Listening to the stimulating radio music or broadcasts (that means sports for our son), or being on the internet too late at night can cause sleep disruption, including waking too early.
Natural Sleep Remedies
Now for the required disclaimer. I am not a doctor, though I was pre-med in college and devour medical material voraciously. Also, there are affiliate links in this post. If you click on them and make a purchase, I might make a commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps keep this free resource up and running.
We have worked with a number of practitioners and have done a lot of research over the years, and we have found the following natural sleep remedies to be helpful:
- Melatonin – We found this to be a real help in our household. We don't use a whole capsule; we just open the capsule up, pour it in a container, and give him about 1/10 of the capsule before bed. (We use Now brand 3 mg capsules.) You can also buy tablets and break them as needed.
- Magnesium – Magnesium can be taken orally or can be used as a foot or bath soak (in the form of magnesium crystals or epsom salts.
- GABA– (promotes relaxed state of mind)
- Valerian – an herb known for sleep-inducing qualities. Look for a standardized version.
- Essential Oils– This is an arena that I am just starting to dabble in, but I am finding it to be quite interesting and effective.
I currently have been using other oils like DoTerra's lavender and Vetiver and have been enjoying those. But since certain oils can work better on some people than on others, I will be continuing to try others as well. Please read my series on Which Essential Oils Company is Best to see what company I am going to be recommending. Or if you need to go right to the company, I chose, check out “The Best” Essential Oils Company here.
Of course, for any of the above suggestions, you should consult with a professional health care provider regarding your individual situation.
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How about you? Do you have any techniques that have helped you get more ZZZZZZ's into your nights?