We grow up hearing the importance of “beauty sleep” or a “cat nap,” but a good night’s rest is often challenging for children with sensory processing disorder. Children with sensory processing disorder may experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input, so they experience stimuli in the world differently that other people. This might mean that the clothing tag on pajamas or a new blanket may cause a painful response for the child. If a child is not sleeping through the night, they are likely tired when arriving to their therapeutic preschool program and may be less likely to actively engage in activities (or therapy) throughout the day.
If a child has sensory processing issues or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a therapeutic preschool program may be able to provide additional support with sensory integration and responses to sensory input. With the help of a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) in a therapeutic preschool program, children can make great gains in their abilities to process sensory information, which can also improve their sleep patterns. A pediatric occupational therapist who works in the program can also provide the parents with helpful recommendations for improving the sleep patterns of their child.
Here are a few ways to improve sleep patterns in children with autism or sensory processing disorder:
Fabric matters with pajamas: If a child is hypersensitive to textures, they may find many pajamas too rough, itchy, or heavy. Make sure you find pajamas made from a fabric that is comfortable to your child, so that you can eliminate this factor from the list of bedtime challenges. It may also be helpful to cut all of the tags out of clothing, so that this does not irritate your child.
Apply deep pressure before bed: Many children with sensory issues find deep pressure (e.g. joint compressions) to be very relaxing. To help them calm down and self-regulate before bed, try applying deep pressure to their arms or legs to help with their proprioceptive input processing.
Put the iPad down: The bright light from a screen can be overly stimulating for any child before bedtime, particularly a child with sensory issues. Make an effort to have your child disengage from any screens at least an hour (or more) before they start to get ready for bed.
Compression sheets and/or weighted blankets: Some children with sensory issues benefit from additional pressure while they sleep by using compression sheets or weighted blankets. These can provide the additional sensory input needed to fall asleep.
Headphones: Using noise-cancelling headphones can reduce some of the sensory input that children with hypersensitivity to sensory information may detect. With limited background noise, it may be easier for kiddos with sensory issues to fall asleep.
Some of these strategies may help children in therapeutic preschool program to be more engaged throughout the school day, since they help to promote a more consistent sleep schedule.
While sensory processing issues do not disappear overnight, consistent support in a therapeutic preschool program can be incredibly successful for some children. Over time, children can work to build more positive behaviors and responses to sensory input with the help of a pediatric occupational therapist and other teachers in a therapeutic preschool program.
At CST Academy, we include many exercises to improve sensory processing in our daily routines. If you think your child could be a good fit for our program, contact us at 773-620-7800 to learn more about our therapeutic preschool program in Chicago!