Calming Exercises to Promote Sleep in Special Needs Children

by Debra Pachucki

    Children with special needs often have trouble entering into a relaxed state unassisted. Overstimulation or sensory overload due to a sensory processing disorder or fidgeting and restlessness due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are common factors that make it difficult for children with special needs to settle down for sleep at the end of the night. Establish and stick to a bedtime routine and experiment with different calming exercises and techniques to help your child relax and drift off peacefully.

    A warm, soapy bath is one natural way to calm little bodies and minds at the end of the day. Be mindful of scented soaps, which can overstimulate or agitate children’s senses. A mild, lavender-scented bubble bath may help calm some children, or you can use unscented soap. Slowly pour warm water over your child’s body and gently massage his arms, legs, chest and back with a soft, soapy washcloth. A dimly lit bathroom or soft music in the background might also help calm a child and prepare him for sleep. Once bath time is over, wrap your child in a warm, fluffy towel fresh out of the dryer to help him feel relaxed, comforted and calm, and dress him for bed in comfortable, loose-fitting pajamas.

    Quiet, relaxing activities before bed can help your child to unwind and calm down. Keep the bedroom dimly lit, and read a storybook or work on a puzzle together. If you have a cat or dog, encourage your child to gently stroke him, which may also calm and relax the family pet as well. Give your child a little ball of soft clay or a stress-relieving ball to squeeze, which might help relieve tension and anxiety. Avoid watching television or playing computer games, which can lead to overstimulation.

    Chamomile tea is known for its soothing properties. If your child is having trouble getting to sleep, offer her a small, warm cup of chamomile tea. It is caffeine free and more effective in soothing a child to sleep than the traditional warm glass of cow’s milk, according to Dr. Trevor Holly Cates of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. A soothing herb satchel filled with loose, calming herbs such as chamomile, lavender, lemon balm and rosebuds placed inside your child’s pillowcase may also help calm her for bed.

    Body massages provide mother and child with a bonding activity that can also help relieve tension, stress and overstimulation in special needs children. As your child prepares for sleep, give him a soothing body massage using deep, slow pressure to stroke his arms and legs and rub his back. A little lotion can also help soothe and calm a wakeful or restless young body. Soft background music may also help your child’s body to relax as you give him the body massage. Your child may also benefit from simple yoga exercises, meditation or slow, deep breathing exercises to relax his body and mind and prepare him for sleep.

    About the Author

    Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.

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