As occupational therapist, we are specialized in sensory processing and we use this expert knowledge as sleep consultants. We view sleep through this lens to better understand how your child self-regulates from a state of ‘awake’ to a state of calm and then to sleep. Here is a little information about the senses and sleep for your baby or child.
Our sensory system allows us to process and understand the environment around us. Sensory processing is described as the organization of sensation in the brain for use related to every day life activities, such as sleeping, playing and eating. Sensory processing continues during sleep. Here are some sensory strategies to consider in order for your infant, toddler or child get a better night’s sleep.
Our senses include smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), vision (visual) and proprioception (information from your muscles, tendons and joints) touch (tactile), hearing (auditory) and vestibular (balance). Here are some tips you can use for some of them:
Vision: Try to make your child’s room as dark as possible. Consider using blackout curtains, especially during the summer months. No night-lights are needed for children less than 1 year of age. When decorating your child’s room, try to keep the visual stimulations to a minimum and choose calming colours.
Proprioceptive: Try a quick 5 minutes massage prior to bedtime. If a bath is a part of the bedtime routine, give lots of big hugs and gentle squeezes with the towel to provide more deep pressure, which tends to be quite calming. Some infants and children might prefer tighter fitting clothing for pyjamas or a sleep sack to provide more deep pressure input.
Hearing (auditory): Use the same story or song as a part of your bedtime routine every time you put your child to bed. They will find comfort in the same ritual and will begin to associate that auditory input (i.e. song or story) with sleeping. A white noise or sound machine used at 50 decibels (you can download an app to measure decibel levels on your smartphone) will help drown out any sudden noises that might alert and wake your baby or child. Recent studies suggest locating the sound machine as far as possible from your child and setting the volume to its lowest setting. Never place a sound machine in the crib or crib rail and operate it only for a short duration of time.