If your child with special needs struggles to sleep well, something that is often overlooked is the room itself. Your child’s room needs to be ideal for their sleep. Often, that means taking into consideration your child’s sensory needs, mobility, and more. Once your child is in a room that they feel comfortable with, going to sleep can be a lot easier for them!
Here are my top recommendations for making the ideal sleep environment for your child:
Make sure that it’s safe
Before adding anything to your child’s room, you must make sure that it’s safe. For children who are still in cribs or who are immobile it’s important that there are no crib bumpers or loose bedding. Everything should be fitted to the mattress. If your child is over the age of 18 months, a blanket and thin pillow is okay.
Make sure that all furniture is sturdy and cannot be knocked over easily. If your child has low mobility, make sure that the bed is lower to the ground, incase they were to roll. Also, if there are blinds in the room make sure that any cords are safely tucked away and completely out of the reach of your child.
Keep the light level to a minimum
For children who do not see well, it’s important that the room is as dark as possible. This is so that their brain knows that dark means sleep. If light is coming in, the brain may be getting “mixed messages”.
For children that have increased sensitivity, the dark room is key. For children who are hypersensitive, they experience light in a totally different way. Very often, light sources can delay the dump of melatonin into the system at night. This will make it much harder for kids to fall asleep.
So, make sure the room is black out when the lights are off. Simply taping aluminum foil or black trash bags over the windows is effective. You can also get shades that can be velcroed in and out, too.
I also recommend getting blue light blocking bulbs for any light fixtures in your child’s room. Blue light influence is what delays melatonin production in the brain. If your child has strong lights in their room, consider switching to these softer bulbs.
If your child does need a nightlight, just make sure that their light is a warm color — red, orange, yellow, or pink are best. And, do your best to make sure there’s just enough light that your child feels safe, but not enough to disturb their sleep.
Keep the room environment clean
For many children with special needs, respiratory issues are very common and often affect sleep quality. This can be chronic congestion, shallow breathing, asthma, or apnea episodes at night. For these reasons, it’s important that there is nothing in the room that can affect your child’s breathing.
If your child has breathing difficulties, make sure that your child’s room is well dusted and free of mold/mildew. Also, be sure not to use air fresheners or scented candles in your child’s room. These can actually aggravate breathing issues and even hyperactivity! However, you can use an essential oil diffuser. Just make sure that your essential oils are good quality.
One thing I do recommend is having a good quality air filter running in your child’s room at night. This will assure that the air their breathing is clean, and help to reduce indoor air pollutants as well.
Keep the room free of distractions
Very often, I will go into a child’s room and this is where all the toys and books are stored. This may convey a message of “play time” and not “sleep time” to your child. Imagine, if your room had stuff piled on top of stuff that wouldn’t make me feel very relaxed.
So, do your best to keep your child’s toys, books, etc. in another room. Your child should come in their room and really associate that place with just sleeping. Now, I realize that many families live in tight quarters and may not have the luxury of a spare room for their belongings. In that case, make sure that your child’s toys are neatly put away before bedtime.
In addition to what is in the room, ideally the walls should also be free of distractions. Simpler is always better when it comes to the ideal sleep environment.
Make sure your child’s room is quiet
For most children that I have worked with, they have some kind of sensitivity to sounds. You can imagine that if you had a heightened sense of hearing, that could make it a bit more difficult to settle at night. Some children are incredibly hypersensitive and are able to hear the fridge downstairs, parents talking quietly in the next room, and even their own bodily sounds (heart beat, stomach churning) — talk about chaotic!
Look at what is outside your child’s room and make sure that there’s nothing that could be adding to the sound chaos at night. Inside the room, make sure that the gaps around your child’s door are sealed.
You might consider even sound proofing some walls so that sounds don’t come into the room. You can do this by making your own sound absorbing panels, or getting the foam tiles for recording studios.
Generally, I don’t recommend white noise for kids who have sound hypersensitivity. This is simply because it is adding to the chaos that’s already there. It’s better to stop sounds from coming in, then drowning them out.
Get your child involved!
When making any changes to your child’s room, it is important to keep in mind that it is YOUR CHILD’S room, not yours. For my kids over 3 years old, I encourage parents to have their children involved with making the ideal sleep space. That means giving them a choice for new bed sheets, new pillow, or new pajamas. If you’re at a point where you’re doing a total remodel of the room, you may give your child a choice in paint color, where the bed might be, etc.
If your child does not have the language yet to communicate these things, or they have difficulty making up their mind, present two choices and let them chose one of the two. For example, Paw Patrol or Ninja Turtle sheets, or blue or green for the wall colors.
If you don’t feel that your child can make some of these decisions yet, even a little involvement can make a big difference for your child!
Sometimes, it’s the little things that can make a huge difference when it comes to sleep quality. These elements should never be overlooked when you’re working to improve your child’s sleep.
Have the ideal sleep environment for your child and they still are struggling to sleep well? Melissa Doman helps kids with special needs get a great night’s rest. Book your discovery call today!