Sensory Processing Disorder and Sleep challenges
One of our most important daily occupations, that is often not given enough credit.
For our children this is just the same.
Sensory Processing is the way in which our sensory systems work together to process incoming information, such as when touched how we perceive and react to this stimulation.
Challenges present with sensory processing, when the body and the mind struggle to process all the incoming stimulation and we can get overwhelmed.
Sleep challenges can be related to our sensory processing. If we think about it Sensory Processing is everything around us, that we process and interact with in our environment. Having a strong sleep routine is part of this.
So what are the signs my child may have sleep challenges
· Requires more that 30 minutes before bed to settle and prepare to fall asleep
· Takes a long time to fall asleep
· Needs someone present for them to fall asleep
· Constantly changing positions or wriggly in the night
· Getting up in the night
· An inconsistent sleep pattern
So what can we do?
Sleep difficulties may be present for a range of reasons, including diet, exercise and arousal; however this can all relate back to our sensory processing. The way in which our body process sensory information around us.
There are strategies to support sensory processing, however they are different for everyone. The earlier we support sensory processing for children the earlier they will have strategies to be more independent in their daily lives and regulate themselves.
It is best to start looking at the sleep routine leading up to bedtime and recording your child arousal levels see below
Sometimes the lead up to bedtime can be activating for the child, causing them to feel dysregulated or hyper before bed. This can cause difficulty in settling.
The child may have had a very stimulating day, a lot of exciting activities for them, particular foods or a big day at school. Over stimulation in our child’s day can often be so exhausting, they may nap in the day to be able to manage this stimulation, which this will impact night-time sleep routine.
It is important to note that a child with unaddressed sensory processing concerns, will struggle to self-regulate because they may not have the strategies yet to do so. Therefore, they require co-regulation, strategies, adaptive strategies, and sensory input throughout their day to begin to understand their processing and learn what they can do. This can take time and is important to do alongside an Occupational Therapist sensory integration trained.
It can be common for our children to use sensory strategies to stay awake, at times when our children are most active they are processing extreme sensory input for them, and may be struggling with this, so they show it in the ways they know how. This is not a negative behaviour, and can be supported with adapted sensory strategies in your daily routine.
Making small changes to the routine before bed can be the best place to start, consider the lighting, use of technology before bed, and food. It is important to reduce or eliminate technology lighting at least 30 minutes before bed (preferably more), as blue light from technology can reduce the production of melatonin our natural sleep hormone. A snack before bed may be arousing the central nervous and keeping our children awake. Try to give food an hour or more before bedtime.
Try essential oils to support your child’s (and our’s) central nervous system. Lavender is the most effective for calming and soothing sensory input. Ensure to use 100% essential oils, not additives, always read the label as additives can be perfume mixed which will alert our children rather than soothe.
Just remember change can take time, try the strategy for at least 2 weeks, and try one at a time; this way you know what is effective. Try to use the patterns template in our Sensory Processing Systems bundle to record your child’s patterns, record the strategy and then review if it was effective a few weeks later.
If you need any support do not hesitate to reach out to us
Poroporoaki hoki inaianei,
Melissa Walker-Tate (Occupational Therapist).
Connecting Together Ltd.