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Helping your disabled child sleep

Sleep problems affect a child’s learning, behaviour, mood and health, and the physical and mental wellbeing of the whole family.

There are some factors beyond your control that can affect your child’s sleep. You should get advice from a medical professional if:

  • your child is in pain
  • your child’s condition can disrupt sleep
  • your child’s medication can affect sleep

Most sleep problems are caused by behaviours that they have learned. Teach your child to self-settle at the onset of sleep so that when they naturally wake during the night, they will be able to fall back to sleep on their own.

You could also try talking to your child to find out if they cannot sleep because they’re worried about something. Do this during the day, not at bedtime. Speak to your doctor if you think your child might have anxiety.

Before bedtime

  • Spend time with your child doing a quiet activity like play dough, massage, jigsaws or colouring as part of their bedtime routine.
  • Do the bath or shower just before bed, or earlier if your child finds a bath too exciting.
  • Make sure your child has a supper snack at the start of their bedtime routine if they are still hungry. Bananas, honey and porridge, warm milk, almonds, peanut butter, yogurt and cheese can help your child get to sleep.

Read more about sleepy foods.

In the bedroom

  • Put away or cover toys, bright colours and noisy items from the bedroom to make it feel calm.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark enough. Use Velcro blackout kits or blackout blinds to keep light out.
  • The best temperature is 16 to 18 degrees Celsius, but try to find out what your child finds comfortable.
  • Lie on your child’s mattress to see if it’s comfortable. If possible, ask how it feels to your child.

Settling your child when they wake up

Show your child that you’re there to reassure them, but try not to stimulate them.

  • If they fall asleep with a light on or listening to music, keep these on to avoid potential night wakings due to a change of environment.
  • Repeat the same phrase, such as “It’s time to sleep.”
  • Avoid making eye contact.
  • Keep the lights off or use a night light.

It's important to wake your child at the same time every day. This includes weekends and school holidays. If you follow this advice for at least 3 weeks, your child’s sleeping pattern should get better.

If you have a partner, try to take turns being responsible for your child’s sleep. That way at least someone can get a good night’s rest.

Keep a sleep diary to monitor your child’s sleep patterns and what affects them.

Scope's sleep services

We run sleep services that support families of children with additional needs, aged between 2 and 18, who have severe sleep problems.

These services provide workshops, clinic appointments as well as support by telephone and email.

Scope's Sleep Right service

Scope's Sleep Right podcast

If you have any medical concerns, you should contact your Paediatrician or GP.

Talking about how you feel

Speaking to other parents with disabled children can be a good way of getting support and advice.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 24/02/2022

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