If your child is a chewer, it’s more than likely they’ll find sleep challenging. The difficulty to process sensory experiences can manifest itself through a need to chew and also through extreme difficulty in falling asleep, repeated night-time waking and extended periods of alertness in the middle of the night – an utterly exhausting problem for the entire family. In fact, the damaging effects of a child’s sleep problems can quickly spiral out of control. Your child’s mood, behaviour and self-regulation are put under increasing stress, this is further exacerbated by the parents’ exhaustion
SLEEP: THE ELUSIVE DREAM
Those with sensory processing difficulties (SPD) need an enriched sensory diet every day in order to help themselves self-regulate. A disturbance to this sensory mix will pose problems at bedtime.
Overstimulation or under stimulation can make the challenge of sleep very real indeed. It’s not uncommon for a child to get upset at the mere feel of their pyjamas or sheets, demand the comfort of sleeping next to you or request complete silence and darkness in the bedroom. Their anxiety is difficult to calm if you aren’t prepared with the necessary tools.
FEEL THE WEIGHT
There are many steps you can take to minimise the anxiety your child may feel at bedtime. For example, stick to a regular routine that will help them to recognise the signs for winding down; use noise-cancelling earplugs to eliminate distractions, and ensure your child has comfortable bedding to reduce sources of irritation. But if you’re after a means to actively calm your child, it’s a good idea to consider using a weighted blanket that provides extra pressure and sensory input.
Research has shown that a weighted blanket can help a child with SPD to fall and stay asleep. This is due to deep touch pressure therapy – a basic human behaviour known to calm us: being held. When certain pressure points on the body are stimulated by touch, serotonin is released by the brain. This is naturally converted to melatonin which relaxes the body, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. Research has also shown that weighted blankets can reduce night-time levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
AN EASY SOLUTION
Weighted blankets are widely available from specialist retailers online but are usually costly. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to make your own weighted blanket which won’t just save you money but will also mean you can tailor it specifically to your child. Choose a fabric that will appeal to your child both in design and feel. Invest in poly pellet weights to sew into your blanket. You should need 10% of your child’s body weight, plus an extra 1-2 pounds. Then simply follow tutorials that you can find online to carefully construct your blanket.
There’s no doubt that every child with SPD will have their own specific needs and wants when it comes to bedtime. Some may respond well to a weighted blanket, others may still require additional help. It’s important to remember to involve your child as you try new techniques as change is typically hard for a child with SPD. With a bit of luck and persistence, you can be sure you will find a solution that will make nighttimes a more pleasant experience for both you and your child.
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