One of the most important steps to help your child with special needs sleep better is a consistent bedtime routine. This helps the brain and body wind down for sleep, and makes sleep predictable. For a child with special needs, having a consistent routine each nights helps them to calm down and relax after a chaotic day of school, therapy, and more.
For so many kids like yours, their day can be overstimulating, disorganized, and stressful. A child with special needs will carry these things into bed time, making falling asleep and staying asleep really difficult. So, the right bedtime routine can make the journey to sleep much smoother.
But, what kind of activities can be included in a bedtime routine?
Here are my top recommendations for bedtime routine activities:
This is an obvious one and probably a step that 98% of kids have in their routine. I know. So, let me talk about why it’s so great!
It’s a great chance for your child to have 1-on-1 time with you! We are constantly being pulled in different directions, so 10-15 minutes at the end of the day to have some cuddle and quality time with your child is vital. And, for many kids who struggle to sleep independently, making sure their mom or dad time is fulfilled does make that transition easier.
And, reading to your child has been shown to increase understanding, cognition, and language. So, if these are areas of concern for your child you’ll definitely want to incorporate daily reading time together.
Especially for children that have been diagnosed with autism, ADD/ADHD, or developmental delay, they are often in a state of higher stress during the day. Because of sensory issues, they perceive things and people around them as threatening or scary. Things are louder, brighter, and feel differently than what you and I experience. They are always on guard.
Some light stretching at the end of the day helps to release any built up tension. It allows the brain to wind down a bit and relaxes the body. When muscles loosen up, circulation gets better too. So, some static stretches or even some kid’s yoga poses helps to ease any built up stress.
On the flip side, for children with tight or loose muscles and kids with low mobility stretching may be too difficult or just not possible. Massage, like stretching, offers many of the same benefits and gets the “feel good” hormones flowing. A few minute of massage is important for children who deal with muscle contractions and discomfort at night.
A relaxing bath time
Getting a bath before bed can be beneficial for a number of reasons. The warm water can help your child feel more relaxed, and it’s a totally different sensory experience compared to the rest of the day. It’s a great way to signal that sleep is coming. In addition, once your child is out of the bath body temperature will drop, making it easier for them to fall asleep.
If your child plays with toys, bath crayons, etc. a few minutes of bath time allows for independent play and the imagination to expand a bit. And, for many kids who love water play it allows for certain sensory needs to be met before bed.
Now if your child has any skin issues where a bath isn’t possible every night, no worries! Even a quick wipe of the hands and face with a washcloth can be helpful.
For kids with tight muscles, I encourage parents to do epsom salt baths so that the body gets the muscle relaxing benefits of magnesium before bed.
Listening to Music
This very often a part of the bedtime routine for many kids with special needs. Parents intuitively know that it will help to calm their child before bed. For children who are sensitive to sounds, it helps to fulfill certain needs with regards to hearing.
If music is a part of the routine, I do recommend putting it at the beginning. For some kids, listening to music too close to bedtime can be a little overstimulating.
This is a great little pre-bedtime playlist that my husband, Spencer Doman, put together just to calm kids who are hypersensitive.
Perhaps your child routine includes one or all of these steps, which is great! For the best bedtime routine, I recommend putting a list of activities together that won’t take more than 45 minutes. This is just because it may make bedtime too late, causing your child to get overtired before bedtime. We definitely want to avoid this!
Regardless of what happens in the day, your child’s bedtime routine is everyone’s chance to take a breath, let go of the day, and get ready to start the next one with a fresh outlook. For the very best routine, remember to keep it relaxing and consistent and sleep will definitely come a lot easier!