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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

  • Try moving your child’s last nap to before 1pm.
  • Allow an hour for your bedtime routine and start it at the same time each day.
  • Make sure all electronic screens are turned off an hour before going to bed as the blue light from these devices disrupts sleep.
  • Sit with your child and spend half an hour playing some quiet games, like jigsaws, colouring, threading or hammer beads during the bedtime routine.
  • Have a bath half an hour before bed, or earlier if your child finds a bath too exciting.
  • Make sure your child has enough food and drink before the bedtime routine starts. Wholewheat bread, bananas, honey, warm milk, almonds, peanut butter, potatoes or turkey at the start of the bedtime routine 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. This could mean:

  • not speaking
  • not making eye contact
  • staying quiet
  • keeping the lights off

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, you 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 19, 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

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: 10/02/2021

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