Hints & tips

Tips for a good night’s sleep for your child with special needs

Sometimes children with long-term illnesses or disabilities find it more difficult to sleep through the night. This can be challenging both for them and for you. A child who does not sleep well can affect the whole family, and disabled children and those with certain medical conditions are more likely to experience problems with sleeping. Below are some standard approaches that help all children, including disabled children, get a good night's rest.


  • Love the bedroom

Don’t use the bedroom as a place for punishment. You only want to have positive feelings associated with the bedroom.

  • Body pillow

Children can sleep better with a long body pillow.  Squeezing it helps them to feel secure.

  • Two sheets are better than one!

Put two waterproof sheets on, so when your child wets the bed, you can gently peel the sheet away without making them get up – so they go back to sleep more easily!

  • Gro clock

A gro clock which uses simple, light-up pictures of a sun and star to differentiate between day and night. You set the times for the pictures to change – its a very useful, visual way for a person to know when it is time to go to bed & get up.  Also comes with a simple story that reinforces the importance of sleep. ( Sold in Boots, Toys R Us, Argos, Amazon £26)

  • Night positioning

Whenever possible encourage your child to sleep on their back, as this is the least destructive position for them in the long term. Use a Safety Checklist to help you think through the possible risks of your child sleeping on their back.

  • Warm & weighty duvets

For the warmth of a duvet without the weight on feet and legs, make small bean bag cushions and put one on each corner at the end of the bed.

  • Sleep tight

Wrap a quilt cover over the bed and tuck it in tightly either side under the mattress, so the bedding doesn’t come off, this helps the child to feel snug and tightly tucked in.

  • Back to front

Put all-in-one sleep suits on back to front to stop nappy escapologists/ diggers at night.

  •  Light box

Great for children with SLD;  a light box to help with  disturbed sleep. It works by regulating his circadian rhythms. A dose of very bright light in the morning for 30 mins and  no snooze during the day.

  • Sleep sac

If your children toss and turn a lot, which means blankets don’t stay on, a sleep sac is invaluable. You may want to continue using one well after the usual age as it keeps them warm and helps avoid chest infections. You can get big ones for children up to 6 years from www.gro.co.uk

  • Nap time

Keep any naps during the day short and not too near bedtime. It should become part of a routine and as early on in the afternoon as possible.

  • Make it familiar (Respite Care)

Children can behave differently in respite care when they are trying to get to sleep.  Send your child’s own pillow or at least a pillowcase that has been washed at home. Washing powders have very different smells and it can be the different smell of the sheets and pillow that put them off sleeping.

  • Door options

Having a stable door on the  bedroom to keep children safe but also allows you to check on them at night without waking them up.

  • Sensory needs bed wear

Some Autistic children need tighter bed clothing (you could try using a full protection UV swimsuit) as the deep touch pressure enables them to settle and maintain sleep.

  • Massage

For relaxation try a foot, hand, scalp or body massage (use massage oil mixed with a couple of drops of essential oils for the smell, essential oils are way too strong on their own), it’s very soothing and relaxing and great before bedtime. You can experiment with different pressures depending on sensory needs.