3 Surprising Benefits of Sleep Coaching for Your Child with Special Needs
Parents of children with special needs often ask whether they need to worry about their kids getting enough sleep. There are often so many priorities between learning and therapeutic needs, that sleep needs get put to the side.
Today, we'd like to share 3 surprising reasons for focusing on sleep with your kids.
1. Your child will be more open to, and more successful with, learning.
Just like with our emotions, research shows that our kids’ brains are able to put together all of the information they take in every day when they have more sleep. I tend to think of this process as organizing all of the information they experience - with all of their senses all day long - into the virtual file cabinets in their brains. These mental file cabinets can then be opened to access these bits of knowledge again any time our kids come across a particular subject, or a similar one, in future days, months and even years. Without the proper time for our kids’ brains to file information away, they don’t operate at their highest cognitive level. Research has shown that even one hour less than the ideal sleep time for our kids can have negative impacts on their short- and long-term memory, and even their math fluency in school.
Caregivers and teachers report children being more alert, and more ready to learn once they are resting well. One mom I worked with declared that more sleep “opened the doors” to learning that she thought may have been permanently closed before her child was sleeping through the night independently.
2. Your child will probably be in a better mood. MUCH better.
Neuroscience researchers have shown that the human mind does a lot of work when we sleep. So, when our kids don’t get enough sleep, their minds don’t get to do all of their important work overnight. A recent study also showed that the mind actually processes things differently when a person is well-rested versus tired, which leads to different emotional reactions when presented with positive, neutral and negative pictures. The researchers list “impaired emotional control” as a direct result of a lack of sleep. A 2012 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that, when sleep was longer, there was “a significant improvement in alertness and emotional regulation” and if sleep was shorter, this had “opposite effects.” (read the entire study here)
While the research on this topic shows that our emotions are much more even-keeled when we are better rested, my most helpful and important feedback has come from parents of kids with Special Needs. Moms and Dads that I have worked with report that, once they are on a better sleep schedule, children are much more calm with change and transitions, and much more open to problem-solving, prompting and support when things don’t go as planned.
3. Time Awake = Quality Time!
When a child is finally sleeping well (and sometimes this is after months of trying) parents find that their time spent with their kids is much more quality time instead of ‘let’s just get through this minute/hour/day’. Everyone wants to live in one of those idyllic pictures of moms sitting next to kids, relaxing and enjoying a snack, book, or game together, with everyone smiling. This is often not possible when your child is over-tired (and so are you!).
When I first start working with a family who wants my support with their child with special needs, they sometimes tell me that they see that their children are so busy all day every day with medical appointments, school, and therapies, that they feel as though they need to spend quality time with their child once everything is done for the day, which is often very late in the night. When we delve below the surface and talk through how “quality” that time of day actually is, many parents tell me that their children cry a lot in the evening, and have trouble playing well with siblings or even parents at this time. The positive emotional impact of sleep is undeniable for so many families with kids with special needs.
Consistent and supportive sleep is a WIN-WIN for everyone in your family!