Advice for Getting Nearly 4 Year Old Son to Sleep; Sensory Processing Disorder

Updated on April 01, 2008
D.M. asks from Reston, VA
12 answers

My nearly 4 year old son is a restless sleeper, he has sensory processing disorder and is very fidgety during the day. He had night terrors, but eliminating dairy helped that. But he still wakes up 3 or 4 times a night every single night and then calls out for mommy. I read about weighted blankets and wonder if anyone has tried this and had success. Thanks.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your responses, I appreciate the advice. Charlie is gluten, dairy and soy free, but I did notice some improvement after taking away the last of the Easter jelly beans. I talked to the pediatrician today and she didn't have much other than stickers to offer, but my ot recommended a long pillow and pushing his bed to the wall and I think I'll check the magic cabin canopy someone recommended. I forgot to ask about melatonin which several people mentioned He seems to have so much separation anxiety I think he is needs reassurance. He also likes to hang his head over the side so maybe the pillow will help that.

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answers from Washington DC on

If you are working with an Occupational Therapist, you may want to talk to them about these sleep issues. Using weighted blankets can be tricky and it would be best if there was an OT involved in any plans you have with that.

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answers from Killeen on

Try melatonin you can get it at GNC. Helps your body produce it's own natural melatonin. Which is what makes us calm and sleepy. Also try flannel sheets, i have a friend whose son has Autism and the dr recommended them for sensory. Good luck


answers from Allentown on

Hi D.,

There is a Dr. Laura Dietzel who works with children with these disorders. Write to her and see if she will respond.

her address is: [email protected]

Hope this helps. D.



answers from Washington DC on

I guess I have more questions:
1. Is he sensitive to the detergent you are using on his sheets? You would know if he also complains about his daytime clothes. We still use Dreft because switching to stronger detergents irritated our son's skin. Your child might have a problem with the smell or texture.
2. Does your 4-year-old watch TV before bedtime? Our pediatrician recommended cutting out all visual stimulation 2 hours prior to bedtime when our son (then 8) kept waking in the middle of the night.
3. Have you adjusted your household temperature? Our son was very sensitive to temperature. He felt like he had too many blankets on at night, although we felt very comfortable. We would tuck him in with a sheet and comforter. We gave him a thinner comforter, lost the sheet, and decreased temperature at night. Furthermore, our house is old, so the heating was very dry. He would get nose bleeds and complain about dry throat. We added a humidifier and he sleeps soundly.
4. Is your child getting enough sensory stimulation in the daytime? We homeschool, so once we added more physical education, as well as more tactile stimulation, he was able to get a deeper sleep than before.
5. Do you have a bedtime ritual that might calm him? Maybe after dinner, you could have some art time (corn starch and water or playdough) along with classical music? Then, a warm bath (or sponge bath if he's too sensitive to touch), and light massage. Maybe the music after the bath/massage will further calm him. Don't know if you have lighting that adjusts in his room too, but you could try adjusting the lighting until it's dimmed right before bedtime. Just a suggestion.
6. Have you looked at the other ingredients in his diet? I know you've eliminated dairy, but some children are also very sensitive to wheat, which can be in quite a few products. One friend went to a casein/sugar free (no corn syrup, eliminating certain fresh fruits, etc.), gluten free diet (no wheat bread, and only brown rice-based pasta) for her children and saw a big improvement in their health.
7. How are his bowels?
8. Finally, discuss this issue with your pediatrician to rule out hormonal imbalances (growth spurt) or underlying illnesses (vitamin deficiency/anemia, yeast, more allergies, dehydration), and to ask him/her about the weighted blanket. As your son has an SPD diagnosis, I hope you have a developmental pedicatrician who can help you through this. I probably wouldn't institute something like a weighted blanket on my own, as it sounds like something that should be recommended by a medical professional. I've never researched that personally because the other techniques helped my son.


answers from Washington DC on

Our doctor just prescribed a low dose Melatonin supplement for our daughter. Our daughter would stay up until 1230am or later saying she couldn't sleep. This has been going on for years. The doctor thinks it is insomnia. The Melatonin has worked very well. She is asleep 1.5 hours after she takes it and sleeps through the night. She is getting up earlier now with energy, which is great. It took us a few doctors, several months, and finally seeing a specialist to get this information. Ask your doctor. It may help.

I will add that even though she has had difficulties, she has not been diagnosed with any type of disorder, ADD, ADHD, etc.. We think that many issues would be resolved with a good nights sleep.



answers from Dover on

hi D.,

i really think your son is not getting enough exercise during the day. run him all day long, take him to playgrounds, get him toys at home he can slide up and down, swings, playmates, etc. so that after dinner, the kid passes out. try the feingold diet too. no red dye in his food, no sugar, caffeine, and water down his juices. fruits only after he eats no cakes, etc. sometimes that kind of sugar is like speed for adults....

he's just a boy and they are so quick to label them. he just needs to be a boy...

blessings, L.



answers from Washington DC on

My son has this also (and finally the Asperg. diagnosis). The weight does help him to fall asleep. But they can be very expensive. What we did instead if use the futon pillows from our futon couch and put them on his back (or sometimes just a regular bed pillow). I think these work better because when he moves he can feel where it is/isn't weighted and can self-adjust to his needs. He also sometimes sleeps on his pillow (head -leg).
Before sleeping we do some sensory stuff too - lots of squeezing, joint compressions, jumping.



answers from Washington DC on

With eliminating dairy, do you mean casein the milk protein? My oldest is autistic and eliminating foods high in phenols was the key to getting him to sleep and staying asleep. He would wake up between 1-2 am and stay up for hours, giggling, and gibbering to himself. Removing gluten may help as well.

There is a cookbook called The Kid-Friendly ADHD and Autism Cookbook by Pamela Compart and Dana Laake. It spends the first 3 chapters describing phenols, casein, gluten and disabilities. I wish I would have read it first.

Let me know how it goes,



answers from Richmond on

Hi D.!

here is a post I responded to on another request re: sleep issues! Hope it helps. Good luck - we feel your pain! We have gone on vacation where our son did not sleep at all (not at night or any day naps) for three days!!! He finally passed out on Wed . . . not only was he awake at night, but crying (he was 1 at the time) - it's hard - hang in there mama!


Does this sound familiar?

Takes hours to fall asleep and when he finally does he wakes up and is AWAKE for hours? Some nights not falling asleep until 2 or even 6am! If by some miracle he does sleep, he wakes way too early like 5 or even 4:30? Some nights waking and coming into your room (or by a sibling's bed) only to stand and watch you sleep for an hour or more?

You have a consistent routine, are diligent about diet and no TV, offer plenty of outdoor time, etc., and still to no avail your child is a vampire??? You have other children so you know you are not CRAZY or "missing" something obvious?

My son had SEVERE sleep issues, too. We eventually had him treated through NAET for a number of things but when they treated him for gluten it was a huge breakthrough! (With NAET you only eliminate the substance for the 25 hours after treatment, then they can have it without effects if they are cleared). We went to (and still go to)

I feel like this really treated the SOURCE of the problem, instead of just managing the symptoms . . .

Other things that really helped in the meantime:

We bought a celestial canopy that hangs from the ceiling to the floor and hung it over the head of his bed with the sides coming down the front and front sides of the bed. (found here: Then put a "husband" pillow in there, another pillow to support his sleeping pillow, and another pillow by his feet and one on the other side so there is a little space in the middle of like 5 pillows all under the canopy. This creates a little "cocoon" for him. He calls it his boat. We did the celestial sky because he is obsessed with the sky. Always wanting to be in the sky when he is overwhelmed or upset.

When he nestles in his boat, between all the pillows (so pillows touch him on all sides), we cover him with a heavy blanket. All of this helps him to feel "grounded" when he closes his eyes.

Then we also give him melatonin. We give him 1 mg. That is conventionally considered a high dose, however, I have done extensive research and there was a study for children with SEVERE sleep issues who took 5 mg. We experimented with doses to see how much he needed for it to work. We have learned he needs to be IN bed within 20 minutes of taking it or else he becomes unbearably cranky. It has a very different effect in children than adults and if a child takes it for an extended period of time they can come off it with healthy sleep patterns in place (so as not to have sleep issues follow them for their whole lives). An extended period of time could be a year or two.

In contrast a child who is just a little restless can take melatonin (.5mg) for a week and be back on track.

Our little one has been sleeping like a champ!!!!! He still wakes up occasionally, may come in our room or not, may fall back asleep on his own or not, but when he cannot fall back asleep on his own, we give him another dose of melatonin and he is back asleep.

It took about a week for him to get settled into this, but we noticed a change in the first few nights!

Good luck! I feel your pain!!!!!




answers from Norfolk on

My 6 year old nephew has a sensory disorder and has had different issues with being very fidgety and over-active and some sleep problems. My sis-in-law has set a routine in place that has helped him calm down before bed and helped him sleep better. She lets him have a snack and gives him a warm bath before bed. I know some parents don't like to let their children eat too close to bedtime, but she said this helped because he wasn't always full and being hungry aggravated his issues. After he's all dry and before he gets in p.j.'s, she uses some kind of sensory brush and brushes his whole body - over his arms, his torso, his back and his legs. This helps soothe him and calm him down. She gets him in cozy p.j.'s and settles him into bed with several blankets. She reads with him or to him and just helps him calm down (if he wants to talk about his day or anything else, she lets him do that). She says it usually takes her about 1/2 hour - 45 minutes from out of the bath to leaving his room, but it works. If you need to know where to get the brush, I will certainly ask her. Hope this helps.



answers from Washington DC on

There is a workshop (2 hours) going on thismonth...not sure of the date, but it specifically on this sensory and preception disorder and how to work with your child. For more info, call Phoenix Family Counseling in Gainesville. It is a Monday evening.

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