At 2 am on Sunday, November 6th, Daylight Saving Time ends in the Washington DC region as we set our clocks back to 1 am. If you and your family suffer with getting a good nights sleep, this added change to the calendar creates more anxiety about a sensitive kid or parent getting even less sleep than they already do! Not getting enough sleep impacts all humans through mood, behavior and self regulation. For a kid that struggles with sensory processing challenges, lack of sleep can magnify their behavior, and leave parents frustrated. For most adults, it’s easy to figure out activities that are relaxing to our bodies after a busy day, as we have had time to explore the world and figure out what works best for us. For children it can be a challenge to calm down after a day of fun activities. For a child with sensory processing difficulties it can be even more difficult. It can be very beneficial to incorporate a bedtime routine.
Here are some tips to help incorporate functional bedtime routine/rituals into your evening on a regular basis. This allows your child time to transition from the day into night and to the shift to and away from DST. Yes, DST, travel/vacations/holidays and illnesses can really muck this up. Gently return to the status quo as soon as you can.
During DST (Fall back or Spring forward) alter bedtime by around 10 minutes over a few days beforehand to adjust to the new time.
Turn off the TV/Ipad/Computer/phones and video games at least 1 hour before bed. Research has shown that the light from electronic devices can confuse the central nervous system and can actually wake up the brain, making children and adults believe that it is daytime. Consider using room darkening shades and curtains to block out sunlight or street lights.
Offer a milky, warm drink to encourage sleepiness and avoid stimulating food and drink in the hours before bedtime. Stay away from caffeine in the afternoon, remember that soda, tea and chocolate have caffeine so be careful about consumption of these substances.
Incorporating regular routines and rituals into the process of getting ready for bed helps children and adults unwind from a busy day and disconnect from stress and stimuli.
– For most kids, bath time is very calming. However, for some kids, a bath can excite them. If baths excite your child, have them take it in the morning or early afternoon.
– Brush teeth.
– Use the bathroom.
– Put on pajamas.
Read a bedtime story, or play a calming game (like completing a puzzle in a calming environment).
Some children can benefit from the use a a heating pad or water bottle while reading the night time story, even cuddling up in a blanket can work
Stay away from games/activities that can up regulate your child’s nervous system: tickling, chase and rough house are best for before dinner or on weekends
For sensory seeking kids:
– Tuck in sheets tightly (if your child likes it and will allow you to).
– Provide deep pressure to their joints, or give them a massage.
– Cover them with a heavy or weighted blanket.
– Provide a fidget toy for bedtime (a stuffed animal or a blanket work great).
– Use a white noise machine, radio, fan, soft music, etc. so they become used to sleeping with some noise.
For sensory avoidant kids:
– Dress them in one size up pajamas.
– Be aware of tags and clothing materials.
– Build a tent over his or her bed to block out sensory distractions that they might find irritating.
A new routine can take some time to get used to, make the transition easier with a visual schedule to avoid confusion for your child about what is coming next. Yes, DST, travel/vacations/holidays and illnesses can really muck this up. Gently return to the status quo as soon as you can. It is important to cultivate patience and practice with ourselves and our children who are struggling to get to sleep and stay asleep, so remember, that this is part of the process of parenting. And don’t forget that moms and dads need sleep as much as their children!
Christine Coyle, MS. OTR/l
Myania Moses OTR/L