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Getting ready for sleep for children with additional needs

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boy sleeping in his bed

Sleep problems occur in all children, but they are even more common in children with additional needs. Lack of sleep can have a huge impact on mood, behaviour, and their ability to learn.


Things that can affect your child’s sleep

Every child is different with a different set of needs. There are a variety of ways that the individual needs of your child can impact their sleep.

Anxiety – if your child is anxious, it may impact their sleep. For example, if they wake up during the night, they may panic at being alone and need reassurance.

Sensory sensitivities - consider if this may be having an impact on their sleep, and ways to support this.

Light - is the room dark enough? Is the room too dark? Consider getting black out blinds, using a night light or leaving the door ajar.

Sound – some children are very sensitive to sound which can keep them up at night. You may find having white noise in the background or playing an audiobook quietly in the background may help.

Texture/clothing - certain textures of clothing may be distressing for your child. A common issue is that clothing labels can irritate their skin. Removing labels or experimenting with different fabrics may help your child settle down to sleep.

Food sensitivities – some children are more sensitive to foods like sugar, caffeine and additives which keep people awake. Avoid giving your child these types of foods and drinks before bedtime.

Hunger – if can be difficult to sleep when you are hungry. We would recommend a non-sugary snack. Slow releasing carbohydrates and dairy such as a plum, banana or yogurt can help prepare children for sleep.

Feeling overstimulated – your child may be feeling overstimulated. Try tidying up their bedroom and avoid playing stimulating games or reading stimulating books before bed.

Lack of routine – sticking to the same routine, even if you do not think it is working, is beneficial to children. Your child will know what to expect at bedtime and it will help prepare them to unwind. Explain to your child what is going to happen and what you expect of them in a way they will understand. Read more about healthy sleep routines.

Toileting – if your child wears nappies or pull ups at night, and needs changing, this may be affecting their sleep. Try and disturb them as little as possible. If their nappy or pull up is full and leaks, this may also disturb them. Children may also be disturbed if they need to use the toilet. If this is an issue, try limiting drinks late in the day. Read more about bedwetting.

Some children may have some communication issues and are unable to say what is upsetting them. So try to rule out any obvious causes of sleep disturbance. Keep your child in mind when finding out what is upsetting them and setting up new routines to help them. For example if your child has communications aids, use them. You can even use social stories and visual timetables.


You may wish to speak to a medical professional

You may wish to speak to a professional if your child’s sleep is affected by:

  • genetic syndromes
  • pain
  • medical reasons for example, your child snores loudly or has pauses in their breathing at night

Tips for parents

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, especially when dealing with a lack of sleep. There is help available for you, and it is important to look after the whole family’s health as well as the child’s.

Sleep deprivation can have a huge effect on everyone’s physical and mental health. Here are some useful strategies you can try.

    • Sharing night-time duties with a partner, family or friend if they can help.
    • Resting when you can. Try to sleep when your child sleeps if possible.
    • Eating well, exercising, and looking after your mental health. Strategies such as mindfulness and meditation can help.
    • Talking to professionals who can help, such as your child’s health visitor, school nurse or a GP.

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2023


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