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Making sure your child with SEND gets the right amount of sleep

Find out what to do if you're worried about the sleep pattern of your child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Babies

New born babies take time to settle into their new environment and your baby's sleep pattern might not be exactly the same as others of the same age. Some babies sleep well from birth, others need less sleep.

Unfortunately sleepless nights are inevitable for the first six to 12 weeks, so you probably won't see a sleep pattern emerging any earlier than this.

You should see their sleep pattern improve after three or four months. If your baby still doesn't sleep, or you are at all worried, talk to your midwife or health visitor.

Children

Sleeping difficulties can present themselves in different ways. Your child may:

  • find it difficult to fall asleep
  • wake up several times through the night
  • wake ready for daytime activities in the very early hours.

If your child is finding it hard to sleep, there is a risk that other family members are being affected as well.

As your child gets older, you will hopefully get past having to do middle-of-the-night feeds. Nappy changing should also become less frequent as your child gets into a bedtime routine. However, some children have ongoing and sometimes permanent continence issues.

For some parents, bedtime can still be a battle of wills, or you may be struggling to get your pre-school child to stay in their bed all night. The nightly challenges may result in your child being tired and cranky during the day. Your health visitor can provide advice on simple strategies to help deal with common bedtime problems that are not medical related.

Causes of sleep problems

You should consider if your child:

  • is in pain or is teething
  • has nightmares or is afraid of the dark
  • is bedwetting
  • is upset by something in the room.

School

Primary school children will encounter new experiences in the home and at school. Some need more sleep than others.

There may be other underlying problems affecting your child’s sleep pattern and mood, including bullying and anxiety about school.

Spend time with your child and talk to them to work through any worries you both have.

What you can do

Behaviour problems can be difficult to manage, distressing and interfere with family routines and activities. If you’re worried about your child’s sleep:

  • get advice from your GP, paediatrician or health visitor
  • try to look after your own health and get enough sleep – you can talk to health staff about your feelings and any symptoms to find a way of getting through this period.

Teenagers

Young people do not necessarily need as much sleep as they get older, but may still not be getting enough sleep due to a range of issues such as:

  • studying and exam stress
  • spending too much time online or playing games.

Over time, lack of sleep could create a sleep deficit and your child may find it hard to concentrate, study or work effectively.

There may be other underlying problems that affect a young person’s sleep pattern and lead to low moods, including bullying and anxiety about school.

Without specialist support, sleep problems can continue for years. Sleep deprivation can affect a young person’s learning, behaviour, mood and health, and also the physical and mental wellbeing of the whole family.

What you can do

Things young people can do to improve their sleep patterns include:

  • exercising regularly
  • setting a regular bedtime
  • avoiding stimulant drinks
  • creating the right sleep environment.

If you still have concerns, you should encourage and support your teenage child to get help and advice from a doctor or someone at school.

Children and young people with SEND

Disabled children, and those with learning disabilities or autistic spectrum conditions (ASC), are more likely to have problems with their sleep or behaviour than non-disabled children.

Sleep problems are common among all children, but can be more common among disabled children where the problem is persistent, and is not likely to be solved without medical or specialist help.

If you are worried about your disabled child’s sleep speak to your GP or paediatrician about if your child’s medication could affect their sleep.

If your child can’t reposition themselves at night due to their disabilities, speak to your child’s physiotherapist or occupational therapist.

Your child may not understand the difference between day and night. Sometimes children with additional needs require help to understand when it’s daytime and when it’s time to sleep, particularly if they have a visual impairment.

If your child uses alternative communication such as sign language or picture symbols, or has a severe learning disability, you may want to ask school staff for help with this or other supporting professionals who know your child well.

What you can do

Follow the advice above, and contact Disabled Children’s Service for additional support.