Lack of sleep or difficulty sleeping in children can have a huge effect on both the child and their families.

Trouble sleeping can take different forms, such as insomnia, sleep schedule problems, nightmares and sleep terrors, bed-wetting and teeth grinding.

Without the right support, sleep problems can last a long time. However, many sleeping problems are behavioural, which mean they can be addressed.

We've come up with the following information to help you understand why your child is having trouble sleeping, as well as what things you can do to help.

Bedroom settings

The environment in which you sleep can have a huge effect on the quality of your sleep. Consider the following when setting up the environment in which your child will sleep:

  • Room temperature: Make sure that your child's bedroom isn't too hot or too cold (the ideal sleeping temperature is between 16 and 18 degrees celsius).
  • Calm surroundings: Bright colours and toys are often stimulating to children. Make sure that the bedroom is a restful area, and is calm for them to fall asleep in.
  • Unnecessary light: Blue light emitted from digital devices (iPads, laptops, mobile phones) blocks melatonin production and prevents sleep. Make sure that there are no screens on in the child's bedroom, and that they stop using devices a while before they are due to go to bed. Make sure that the bedroom is dark enough to encourage sleep.
  • Comfort: Make sure that your child's bed is comfortable and the clothes that they wear to bed are not causing them any discomfort.
  • Bedding: If your child is kicking their bedding off during the night, then waking because they are cold, consider using a double duvet tucked under the mattress of a single bed. Also, think about what temperature you feel at night - if you're comfortable sleeping under a sheet, but your child has a heavy duvet, they could be getting too hot.
  • Noise: ​​Some children with sensory issues can be particularly sensitive to noise. The noise of an electric fan can mask other noises in your home which may help if other noises are an issue.
  • Bedtime routine: A routine before bedtime can help your child settle into sleep and have a more restful night.
  • Hunger: Make sure that your child is not hungry when they go to bed. If you need to move their meal time until later, a mid-afternoon snack can help.
  • Thirst: Children may use "I'm thirsty" as a distraction technique at bedtime. Monitor what your child is drinking during the day and offer them water at night time instead of juice or milk. If they're genuinely thirsty, they'll drink water.
  • Pain: Some disabled children cannot reposition themselves at night which can disrupt their sleep. If you think your child may be in discomfort or pain in bed, you should seek advice from a medical professional.
  • Medication: Is your child is on any medication that may be affecting their sleep? Or do they have to be given medication during their sleep which may be disturbing them? Check with a medical practitioner if you are unsure.

How to get the support you need

Contact the Learning Disability Helpline, our advice and support line, for guidance and information about what support we can offer you.

Or why not take a look at FamilyHub? This is our online community for parents and family carers of people with a learning disability, and is a place for sharing experiences, advice and support.

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