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Supporting your child’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential in supporting your child to reach their full potential. Sleep can affect every aspect of life including behaviour, learning, health and mood – for your child and the entire family.

However, changing any child’s sleep routine is difficult – it takes perseverance, consistency and can often feel like it gets worse before it gets better. These are all common experiences and feelings for all parents, and you are not alone in this. We also recognise that when your child has additional needs or a learning disability you will be up against another set of unique challenges, and this process may take even longer.

Watch Ruth, a Family Support Worker, talk you through the importance of sleep, the significance of sleep cycles and offer some advice on how to improve your sleep including how to deal with night waking, encouraging self-settling and establishing a good routine.

Transcript: Supporting sleep video

What can I do?

The key elements to success are consistency, patience and maintaining a routine. However, there are no guaranteed fixes, and different behavioral approaches will have varying degrees of success with individual children. Below are our initial tips and strategies you can try when assessing your child’s sleeping routine.

Keep a Sleep Diary

Use a sleep diary to track your child’s bedtime routine and sleeping habits for 2 weeks. This diary will help you to identify patterns in their routine – including whether certain sleep aids are working, the potential triggers to their routine and the average amount of sleep your child is getting each day. Use your completed diary to make changes to your child’s routine. A sleep diary can also be helpful to show to professionals such as GPs and can be used to support applications for DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to evidence how often you get up in the night to help your child.

Monitor your child’s naps

Naps can help a child to sleep better at night, as it prevents them from getting over tired, or falling asleep inappropriately early in the evening.

A child’s daytime sleep cycle is around 45 minutes, it’s recommended that your child sleeps for at least one cycle to get the full benefits from their nap. Ideally, naps should happen in your child’s bed or cot to help build the association between certain environments and going to sleep. However, we recognise this isn’t always possible so don’t worry if your child ends up sleeping in their pushchair or in the car!

Monitor naps by logging them in your sleep diary – this will help you keep track of how long, how often and how effective your child’s naps are throughout the day and may help you to identify patterns as to how this affects them at night. Ask nursery, education providers and other family members to keep track of any naps your child has while with them, so you can build a full picture of exactly how much sleep your child is getting.

Create a sleep routine that works for you and your child

  • Spend time before bed doing activities that relax your child – for some this may be singing or bath time, but for others it could be doing a puzzle, playing with lego or reading a story. Limit screen time for an hour before bedtime, as the blue light from devices interferes with the production of sleep hormones.
  • Have a snack! It’s hard to relax and fall asleep if you’re hungry. Some foods such as banana, cherries, dairy and grains can even help with the natural production of melatonin (the hormone that helps regulate sleep). Read more about ‘sleepy foods’.
  • Ensure bedroom surroundings are comfortable and relaxing. Consider your child’s sensory sensitivities when thinking about temperature of the room, texture of pyjamas and bedding. Remove or cover any bright, noisy or stimulating toys from the room. Any sleep aids such as music, white noise or nightlights should be left on throughout the period the child is asleep if possible, to avoid disorientation and waking due to change of environment.
  • Be as consistent as possible with your routine, so a child can associate certain times, activities, sensations and environments with going to bed. This includes weekends!

Explain sleep and your child’s sleep routine

Various sensory needs mean that a child with additional needs may not recognise physically feeling tired, as sensory feedback can be delayed. Use our social story to explain the need for sleep to your child, as well as to offer help with understanding the social cues and routines that lead up to winding down – the pages are unnumbered so download, print and assemble into an order that reflect your child’s routine.

Put together a visual timetable of this routine, you can use our printable pack of night-time related activities to help.

Medication

For some individuals especially those with autism, problems with sleep could be due to irregular melatonin levels (the hormone that makes you sleepy at night). Synthetic melatonin supplements are only available through prescription – speak to your child’s GP about this. Prior to receiving a prescription, many GPs will want to see that you’ve tried alternate strategies such as behaviour or sleep training – evidence of a sleep diary or the attendance of a course such as Scope’s Sleep Right or a Sleep Charity accredited training course can help with this.

What can we do?

Our Family Support Team is licensed to facilitate Sleep Tight workshops. This is a 5 week course that aims to support parents to better understand sleep and implement behavioral approaches to sleep training with their child.

If you are interested in signing up to one of our upcoming courses please complete our referral form.

Useful resources

We’ve created some resources that can be used to support your child’s sleep:

Visit our resources section for more useful tools.

Additional support

Speak to other parents with disabled children on our closed Facebook group.

Follow us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events.

Read more about Scope’s Sleep Right Course.

Health passports

Front cover of the Leeds Mencap Health Passport

What is a health passport

A health passport is a resource for people with a learning disability who might need hospital treatment.

The passport is designed to be taken to hospital and health appointments. It can help you to communicate important information about your needs to doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.

Health passports are owned by the child, young person or adult named in the document and can be completed with the help of a parent or carer.

A completed health passport can help staff to support you by providing lots of useful information about any communication needs, anxieties, likes and dislikes you may have.

The health passport is called by different names in different areas across the UK and was previously known as the traffic light document. It does not matter which health passport you bring with you. The important thing is that you share useful information with hospital staff.

Download a blank health passport

How to fill in a health passport

Watch our hospital passport video demo to find out how to fill in the form.

Transcript: Hospital Passport video demo

Using your completed health passport

Once you have completed the passport, you can:

  • Staple the pages together to form a booklet, or
  • Keep them in a clear plastic folder.

You might find it useful to keep a spare copy for your own records.

When you have completed your health passport, take it with you whenever you visit hospital.

It is helpful for people to email completed Hospital Passports to leeds-tr.ldautism@nhs.net or post them to Learning Disability & Autism Team, 2nd Floor, Trust Headquarters, St James’s University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7TF so they can be uploaded electronically. This means that hospital staff should be able to access your Hospital Passport whenever you are in hospital

If you’re admitted to hospital for treatment overnight or for a long stay:

  • Give the passport to the doctor or nurse responsible for your care
  • Ask them to keep the passport with the patient notes at the end of your bed.

Don’t forget to update your passport! You will need to keep your health passport updated, especially if you have a change in medication or your medical condition.

Remember: You might be in hospital during an emergency when the doctors and nurses need to treat you quickly. Write down the most important information to allow doctors and nurses to help you.

Communication aids for hospital visits

We’ve created a pain communication resource to help people communicate their level of pain to hospital staff.

It uses a green, yellow and red traffic light system that people can point at to share where on their body it hurts and how much pain they are in.

Download our pain communication resource (PDF) or explore our Communication section to find out about useful tools that can support communication.

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