Bedtime Strategies for Your Child with Special Needs

Bedtime. It can be difficult in the best of circumstances, but for parents of children with sensory issues, autism or ADHD, it can feel like a losing battle. But don’t give up! There are steps you can take to have a better time at bedtime.

Set the stage for sleep
Make your child’s bedroom into a relaxing sanctuary. Turn off all electronics including TVs, smartphones, iPads and computers, keep lighting dim and use black-out shades. If your child insists on having light in her room, guide her to a nightlight. “Although it may be tempting to allow them the extra light to allay their concerns and fears of the dark, too much light is counterproductive to natural body rhythms that trigger sleep,” according to the folks at the Sleep Matters Club. “As darkness descends, the pineal gland in our brain releases the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleepiness. This function is an important reason why children should not be exposed to electronic devices or televisions in the hour before bed. Not only is the content stimulating, but the light from the screen, blue light, is especially disruptive to this process, inhibiting the release of melatonin.”

Be sure the room’s temperature is comfortable for your child. The Sleep Matters Club people say the optimal temperature for sleep is a cool 65 degrees.

Use soft, not scratchy, linens and put toys away to decrease distracting and overstimulating clutter. Clutter “triggers more excitatory sensory input, slowing the body’s transition to relaxation and sleep,” says the Sleep Matters Club. “A clean space has a decidedly calming effect, helping your child ease into sleepiness.”

Choose a reasonable bedtime
Taking into consideration your child’s age, internal clock, your family’s schedule and his school’s start time, decide what time you want your child to be in bed and ready for sleep. Not sure how much sleep your child needs?  Consult with this chart from the Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat newsletter. Based on the bedtime you choose, determine when to start your bedtime routine. For example, if you want your child to be ready for sleep at 8p.m. – you may need to begin turning off electronics, running a bath, putting on PJs, brushing teeth and reading a story by 6:30 or 7.

Routine rules!
Getting your child used to a consistent routine goes a long way toward decreasing the stress around bedtime. Though routines aren’t created overnight, they’re worth building. Marci Wheeler of the Autism Support Network stresses the importance of a bedtime routine for children with autism. “A bedtime routine should be the same every day and should include activities that are pleasant and relaxing as well as special and individualized to fit your child’s needs and interests,” says Wheeler. Some activities that may work well “include looking at the same book or story each night, saying good night to favorite objects, toileting, bathing, getting pajamas on, brushing teeth, having a glass of water, singing a favorite song or prayer, listening to calming music that the child enjoys, hugging and kissing family members and/or engaging in a calming sensory integration activity,” says Wheeler.

 Lights Out
When the bedtime routine is complete, it’s time to turn lights out and tuck your child into bed. A weighted blanket, a night light with soft sounds, and a favorite plush toy can facilitate sleep. Enabling Devices has created a simple Bedtime Bundle that includes a light projector with soft sounds, a weighted blanket, and a soft vibrating animal friend. Learn more at