The Importance of Sleep

Guest Authored By Lauren Abry, OTD, OTR/L

Does your child have difficulty falling sleep or staying asleep at night? Does your child wake up and start crying? Unable to calm him or herself to fall back asleep? If the answer is yes, this is the post for you! 

We all know that sleep is extremely important for a young child, but sometimes we don’t know how to help our child get the most restful sleep at night. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night are things that are very common…so you are not alone!  

Young children have difficulty with sleep for many reasons. Children may wake up and be startled by the dark or by being alone, which may result in tears and calling out for their loved adult. Young children often have difficulty self-regulating their emotions and feelings and this can result in difficulty self-soothing to fall back asleep. Sometimes difficulty with sleep can be due to worries or anxiety. Children of any age can experience worries that can affect their nighttime sleep and children might need an adult to help them ease their worries. Children often get sick with colds or upset tummies. If a child is crying in his or her sleep it may be the result of being extremely uncomfortable or in pain. In this case, it might be best to get things checked out by a pediatrician!   

There are many different things you can try in order to create the best sleep routine and environment for your child. 

To help a child fall asleep… 

  • Nightly sleep routine – having a consistent bedtime routine that includes things such as a warm bath, lotion massage, and reading a bedtime story can help prepare your child for sleep. 
  • Weighted or heavy blanket – use of a heavy blanket can provide your child with soothing input on the joints and muscles (proprioceptive input), which creates a calming effect.  
  • White-noise machine – use of a white noise machine can create a soothing sleep environment for your child. The soft, consistent noise decreases the likelihood that your child will be startled from noises at night and wake up. 

If a child wakes up in the middle of the night… 

  • Wait before entering the room – give your child a few moments to attempt to self-soothe before going into the room. This will allow you to see if your child is able to settle down without your help. 
  • Provide gentle, simple reassurance – instead of picking up your child for cuddles or laying next your child to provide co-regulation to help with sleep, try simple gestures while your child is still laying in bed. Gently patting your child’s back or head, or saying “shhh” until your child’s eyes start to close are simple gestures that can provide comfort and help your child fall back asleep. As your child begins to self-soothe, these reassurances may be needed less and less frequently.  

Difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep at night can be hard, not only for the child but for the family as well. Creating a consistent sleep routine and comforting sleep environment can help your child get the most restful sleep. The important thing to remember is that with anything you try, you may have to allow for at least a week or two before seeing results! Stick with it!