10 Ideas for a Stress Free Sensory Seeker Bedtime!

The twins bedtime is always interesting at our place….I sort of look forward to it but I sort of don’t…as I said, it’s interesting!

We have always stuck to a pretty solid bedtime routine right from when they were bubs, I found I had to with twins or everything just fell apart very quickly.
When I realised however that Ruby was experiencing some sensory processing difficulties and is often a sensory seeker in certain situations, especially at the end of the day, I began to understand why bedtime has often been a frustrating battle with and for her.
She can seem so tired before going to bed but once in there she often jumps around her room, sets up play scenes for herself, sings, hums and generally just hypes up! Some nights end with us both in tears and Ruby finally asleep on her floor long after her twin has already gone to sleep. Thank goodness they are able to have separate rooms! This has been a pattern since they were babies so we soon gave up on our wonderfully decorated twin cot nursery and moved them into separate rooms.
Over the past year I have been doing lots of reading and research and trying out a few strategies to get her sleeping sooner (and me a little calmer)…some of which have worked better than others, some haven’t worked at all but we have made progress and I’m so relieved to tell you that bedtimes aren’t nearly as frustrating (and to be honest…just plain awful!) as they were a few months ago.
I know I’m not alone in going through the trauma of putting a sensory seeker to bed so I thought I would share some of the strategies that I’ve tried over the past year that have helped or at least made a difference. Perhaps there is something you haven’t tried yourself yet!

Please keep in mind that although I am a parent and trained early childhood professional I am not an OT, not trained in sensory processing, diet or sleep disorders. I’m just sharing what seems to have worked for us.

Tips and strategies for helping children with sensory processing difficulties (SPD) get to sleep at night. Find out more at Mummy Musings and Mayhem
10 Ideas For a Stress Free Sensory Seeker Bedtime

1. Eating a Failsafe Diet

It would take quite a few separate blog posts to explain the failsafe diet and why we have been trying it so instead I am going to direct you the FED UP website and encourage you to read through the general info and the factsheets there.
All I can say is it has been such an eye opener for us. We have always tried to avoid numbers, colours and preservatives in food but I’ve now realised that many naturally occurring colours, chemicals and foods aren’t always good for our own body even if they are the healthy choice for many others.
Food intolerance is very different to a food allergy so it has been a slow process to work out the foods and additives that we need to avoid for Ruby but it is worth it as there has been a dramatic increase in her behaviour, attention span and sleeping habits. She has an intolerance to all additives and preservatives (including the ones in all the children’s medicines which I did not even know were there!) and also salicylates . Her asthma cough now only appears when we have strayed from the diet or tried something new that we think might be ok.
We are still working our way through the elimination process but I do think the diet is helping both girls to regulate their emotions, bodies and sensory processing a whole lot better. And I have learnt so much just by reading and investigating food manufacturer’s ‘claims’. I can’t believe some of the sneaky ways they are poisoning our kids. I also wonder how much food is impacting on the rise in sensory difficulties in our kids.
Why not do a little reading and see if there is something you could alter in your child’s diet too?

2. Add a Little Weight

Sensory seekers often like pressure on their body so I always add a few heavy blanket’s to Ruby’s bed (you could try a proper weighted blanket but we don’t have one) as well as a few of those little wheat packs you can heat in the microwave. She seems to like the warmth and weight even in the hotter weather so I just leave the fan blowing to keep her cool.
Long sleeve “heavy” type pyjamas seem to help her sleep better too. I used to wonder why she seemed to sleep better in the cooler months and now I think it is because of all the blankets, flannelette sheets and winter weight pyjamas.
If she is really active and obviously finding it hard to calm down we do the hot dog roll for a while with her. She loves getting rolled up tightly in her doona and then rolled back and forth while we lie across her.

3. Tuning into Texture

Those that are sensitive to certain textures may be staying awake at night because something is rubbing or annoying their skin and senses. Although Ruby is a sensory seeker in many ways she is also quite sensitive to textures on her skin.
I’ve learnt to cut tags out of clothes, use soft flannelette sheets on the bed, (even in Summer and especially on the pillowcases) put socks on to stop feet rubbing on sheets and let her choose what she wants to wear to bed..it’s usually something with long pants or more recently she seems to like stockings as I think the feel of her toes enclosed as well is comforting.

4. Massage and Compression

We often give the girls a quick joint compression type massage while one of us reads the bedtime story or when they are in bed and we are saying goodnight. It seems useful when Ruby is especially jittery or jumping around on her bed a lot.The reason this is useful is because Proprioception is a form of sensory input to the muscles and joints which makes us aware of our “position in space”  Children who have difficulty interpreting proprioceptive input have trouble planning their movements and regulating their own level of arousal. By providing some proprioceptive input we are trying to add some sensory input to Ruby’s muscles and joints.

You can read more about joint compressions over at Sensory and More.

5. Let Them Chew

If they like to suck or soothe with fidgeting during the day then it’s likely they will want to do the same thing to relax at bed time. Ruby has a piece of muslin cloth that she sucks on and another that she folds around her nose and smells. The smell is very important and obviously gives her great comfort. I don’t use any fragranced wash powders. At nearly 4 I would prefer not to have to have comforter toys for her but it is really only something she wants at sleep time, not when upset during the day or seeking attention. She gets what she seeks in those areas in other ways.
There are lots of ‘chew soothers’ and fidget toys that can be purchased especially for sensory kids, perhaps they are worth giving a try if your child doesn’t already have something to hold or suck at bedtime to give them the input they are craving.

6. Everybody Jump and Swing

Children with sensory processing disorders often have issues with their vestibular system. Some are over responsive to movement and some are under-responsive …seeming to always be craving movement.
The vestibular system is how we negotiate balance. It refers to the structures within the inner ear that detect movement and changes in the position of the head. This sense is important for the development of balance, coordination, eye control, attention, being secure with movement and some aspects of language development.
This was one of the first indicators we noticed in Ruby, she always seemed to love the back and forth swinging motion and jumping movements. She also like to lift and carry quite heavy things around. We really noticed it during prolonged rainy periods when we spent less time getting active outdoors. She became aggressive, hugged everyone tightly often knocking them to the ground, began running everywhere inside and generally doing lots of movement that made me shudder and fear for her safety!
I soon learnt to incorporate ways to provide the movement opportunities she craved indoors as well. We purchased a mini trampoline for jumping and we use our rocker chairs to hold her tight and swing back and forth fast with her when we see that she needs the extra input. I also brought one of those little sit n spin toys that kids can sit on and turn themselves. The other tricks in our bag of vestibular goodies include an old style rocking horse that swings back and forth, a bouncing hoppy ball, and simple indoor obstacle courses.
The large trampoline and swing set outside are often miracle workers but when it’s too cold or wet our indoor ‘tools and tricks’ work well too. I make sure she gets some of these movements in before meal times and sleep times so that her body can calm and ‘reset’ a little easier with the input she has provided.

7. Routine and Transitioning

I’ve already mentioned that we have always followed a bedtime routine and it starts an hour before actual lights out to give their systems time to process this transition from the day.
Our routine is always dinner, bath/shower, quiet play (tv off), some jumping on the little indoor trampoline or rocking back and forth with mummy in the armchair, then a cup of warm milk, clean teeth, stories by lamplight on our bed(so no bright light) music on, night time song “twinkle twinkle”, lights out, fingers crossed!
Recently I have begun using a visual chart of the bedtime routine using little photo cards to represent the above actions. As we finish each one the girls take the card off the board (I just used velcro dots and laminated the picture cards…easy!)
It seems to be helping them to understand what is happening next and what is expected of them. It also gives their bodies and brains time to adjust and prepare for each action as they transition.

8. Build a Bed Cocoon

I’ve been doing the bed cocoon for Ruby for quite some time now. It really seems to make a difference. She likes to feel things on top of and against her so I lay pillows and soft friends along each side of the bed, she has quite a soft squishy pillow which folds around her ears and I also put one of her old cot comforters underneath her sheets to make a softer spot for lying in.

We’ve also recently added a mosquito net canopy so I can pull the net around the top half of the bed to enclose her a little. To cover the wooden slats at either end of the bed I just added a few cot blankets draped over the ends to ‘enclose’ the bed even more. I have positioned the bed facing away from the door because I find if Ruby can look out the door she will do so for a very long time trying to see what’s happening outside her room which usually leads to not being able to switch off.

It really is like a little cocoon, it doesn’t make for a nice neat bed as you can see but I’m not concerned about that when it helps her to sleep. But yes, it is a royal pain to change sheets and bedding each time!
A word of warning, Ruby is nearly 4 at the time of me writing this, obviously you would need to practise caution and common sense if trying this approach with younger children. Always follow SIDS guidelines when putting babies to bed.

9. Let’s hear it for the Noise!

The girls have had the same CD playing each night since they were born pretty much. I played it when i was pregnant and they still love it.
Playing relaxation music not only helps them to wind down but it also drowns out all the other household background noise which can get little brains ticking and curious feet wandering out to see what’s making the noise!We’ve recently started alternating their music with some kids guided relaxation CD’s. They seem to really be helping them wind down and because they follow a guided relaxation/meditation it keeps them active and using their senses while they begin to switch off. We have been using the Dinosnores CD’s. and I would certainly recommend them (no I’m not getting paid for these links!).

As briefly mentioned earlier I also have a pedestal fan blowing in the room as the white noise seems to soothe. If you haven’t tried using music or white noise to block out family background noise then perhaps give it a try.

10. Build a Safe Cave

When we first moved Ruby from the cot to a single bed I would often find her in the middle of the night sleeping on the floor with her head lying underneath the bed. No matter how many times I moved her she would always be back there with pillows, blankets and friends.After a bit of brainstorming I realised that she was missing the enclosed feeling of her cot and while Tara was revelling in the extra space to stretch out Ruby was feeling scared. It was also a huge routine change for her and she doesn’t take to changes in her routine very well as with many of our sensory kids.

I felt awful seeing her sleep on the floor each night so I dragged inside the girls little play tent (like those ones you put the plastic balls and tunnels in), added a doona and lots of pillows and cushions and soft toys to make a dark, soft little cave and what do you know? She slept in there every night quite happily for months.

I worked on some strategies (see ‘bed cocoon’ above) to make her single bed a more secure and happy place to sleep and now she loves her bed. I just had to let go of the expectation of her getting into a big girl bed straight away and transition her to the soft safe cave first.

Sometimes we just have to allow our kids to grow outside  the boxes a little!
For more information about sensory processing disorder, vestibular and proprioception input, caring for sensory children at work and home you might like to visit some of the places I find inspiration and support too…

My Pinterest board… Support for SPD and AutismJoy from Pinkoddy shares lots of great SPD articles written by a Mum for other Mums as she finds her way with her own children’s diagnoses

Dayna Lemon Lime Adventures explains so clearly what SPD actually is in a blog post that is the start of wonderful series on all things SPD, I encourage you to have a little look around at all the other fab posts too. She is an early childhood educator and Mum of a little one with SPD so knows what she is writing about!
Dayna also has a helpful Pinterest board you can explore Sensory Processing Resources

The Inspired Treehouse is a blog written by 2  occupational therapists and there are so many helpful articles over there I cannot begin to list them all. I do suggest you start by reading the post about the 5 myths OT’s would like you to know and then begin exploring more articles. They really are helpful and everything is explained so clearly. They have also written a post about sensory smart sleep tips from a professional OT angle (unlike just my Mummy/educator advice!) in this article

A Sensory Life explores the sleep challenges with sensory kids and also offers strategies in a wonderful article.

Suzy Homeschooler shares her thoughts on why sensory bins and play is so important and explores some factors which may have contributed to the rise in SPD type issues in recent generations. There are also some great links at the end of the article.

Little Bins for Little Hands shows us how easy and fun it is to set up sensory bin play in this fantastic collection of ideas on her blog.

As we are now entering Summer here I also wanted to share this Summer Survival Kit for Sensory Processing Disorder…some great ideas and things to think about in this article!


You might also like these previous posts on Mummy Musings and Mayhem (just click on the pics to visit the articles)
DIY Sensory Bubblewrap Roller Painting - Tips to modify for SPD children includedToddler crossing the midline activities     15 strategies to help get SPD toddlers eating    Hairwashing fun for sensory toddlers
Toddler fine motor sensory paint
 3 Banana recipes for sensory challenged toddlersFussy SPD Toddler finger foods
What works for you and your sensory seeker at bedtime?
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Warm Wishes….

6 thoughts on “10 Ideas for a Stress Free Sensory Seeker Bedtime!

  1. Thank you for this thought provoking post. We have a little one that really struggles with getting to sleep. I have thought about solutions to the problem, but these tips and ideas are so much more concrete. Looks like I have some research ahead of me, but I think it will definitely be worth it.

  2. Well done Mom,

    I am an OT that does work with sleep issues and you have provided a comprehensive list of functional strategies.Mom’s often know best!

  3. I smiled as I read through these,
    my 7 year old has implemented almost all of these herself and we’ve went with it another one she likes to do is write anything down on her little piece of paper that she is thinking about just before she is sleeping so her head is nice and clear and ready to sleep 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for including The Inspired Treehouse as a resource in this post! As OTs, we love the idea of using sensory strategies to help little ones get the sleep they need for healthy growth and development!

  5. This article perfectly describes my 2 year old boy…so much so that I was nearly in tears over finding someone who really and truly gets my nightly struggle! It has become worse over this past week when we moved from a cot to toddler bed. Not because he wants to wander but because he wants to sit on and roll around his bed *constantly*. Getting his nappy changed, brushing his teeth etc were all hard before this but now it’s a hundred times worse as he constantly bucks, bodyslams and rolls towards it! I am going to re-read your tips and find ways to implement some of them. We introduced the concept of “under” today as, until now, he has refused to go under the duvet (too lightweight I think for tactile input plus he hates feeling trapped). Weighted blankets might work,but the cocoon looks good too.
    Anyway; thank you for sharing this and helping me feel less alone in my struggles!

    1. Hi Stacey, so glad you found the article helpful, even if it is just to know that you aren’t alone in the struggle!I’d also suggest getting in touch with an occupational therapist for some support – they really understand sensory needs and have been so helpful for us , hang in there xx

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