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Suggs Pediatric Outpatient Therapy Services

Developing Sensory & Motor Skills Through Play


Does your child have difficulty sleeping?

Sleep can be a challenging subject for parents of kiddos who have sensory processing difficulties. Difficulties with sensory processing can affect a child’s ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, wake up refreshed, and coping mechanisms when tired.

Adequate sleeps is essential for self-regulation (think of how cranky adults get without sleep). So here are 6 strategies that could be helpful for your child:

  1. Get enough sensory input throughout the day! Vestibular input (movement sensed by inner ear), proprioceptive input (input to muscles and joints), and tactile input (sensations on the skin) are all types of input that every child needs. This input is like nutrition for the brain and it helps to develop self-regulation strategies. If your child has had limited movement experiences that day, perhaps because of too much screen time, then their brain is deprived of vestibular and proprioceptive input. If they are not playing and creating with their hands, their brain might be deprived of tactile input. These areas of deprivation can lead to more difficulty with self-regulation and therefore sleep. (
  2. Deep pressure activities before bed. Deep pressure is calming to the nervous system and can help children enter a more relaxed state. These types of activities can include lying down to read a book under a weighted blanket, rolling your child up tight in a blanket or towel like a burrito, having your child cuddle up in a bean bag or cocoon swing, or a deep pressure massage.
  3. Slow, rhythmic vestibular input. This type of input is also calming to the nervous system. Try slow rocking in a rocking chair or having the child swing back and forth in a cocoon swing or other type of swing where the child can lie down. Be careful: rotary input (spinning) can have the opposite effect!
  4. Soft lighting. Bright lights are stimulating to the nervous system, soft lights are calming. Some children love looking at a lava lamp or similar device for calming visual input.
  5. Music. Low, classical music can be calming to the nervous system. Try a classical YouTube playlist during your bedtime routine.
  6. Don’t eat right before bed. If you body is in an active process of digestion, this can actually negatively effect sleep. Try to make sure your child eats at least a couple hours before bed time.



As published by the Occupational Therapy Journal of Research in 2012, a study conducted actually found that children with increased sensory sensitivities had increased difficulty with sleep. They found that children with sensory sensitivities “have higher levels of cortisol and lower melatonin before sleep” which leads to a worse overall quality of sleep. More specifically, children with auditory, olfactory, and visual sensitivities demonstrated more difficulty with sleep.

(OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health • Vol. 32, No. 1, 2012 Sensory Processing, Physiological Stress, and Sleep Behaviors in Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorders. Stacey Reynolds, Shelly J. Lane, Leroy Thacker.)


If your child is demonstrating difficulties with sleep and you think it might be related to difficulties with sensory processing. Come see us! We would love to help you implement strategies at home to help your child.

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