Sleep Advice for Children with Additional Needs

Sleep difficulties can affect many children, this is for a variety of different reasons. Children with additional needs could be more likely to have trouble with getting off to sleep, early waking and /or staying asleep.
Often there are a combination of factors affecting sleep, but for the majority of sleep issues, behavioural interventions such as routines and good sleep hygiene are the key to getting a good night's sleep.

  • Following the same routine in the hours before bedtime.

  • Having a consistent bedtime and waking at the same time every morning.

  • Being free of all screens for at least one hour before bedtime (including TV, tablet, phones and computers).

  • Avoiding heavy meals, caffeine and sugary snacks or drinks in the run up to bedtime.

Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone released by the brain to help us feel sleepy. It is manufactured just behind the optic nerve in the eye, hence why darkness and light are so important. We can help children increase their melatonin levels naturally by adopting the strategies enclosed.

  • It is important to develop a good day time routine before tackling a night time routine, as well as having boundaries consistently in place. Having a regular morning waking time and set mealtimes is a good place to start.

  • Your child may need visual aids to help them understand what is expected of them or what will be happening next. Objects of reference such as showing them their pyjamas or a night time comfort object can be used. Visual schedules, now and next boards, timers or verbal reminders can help with the transition between day and night time.

  • Help your child to understand the difference between day and night routines, such as introducing calming activities before bed and using a quiet voice.

  • Some children respond well to rewards / incentives.

Consider any physical or medical needs that might be impacting on your child's sleep. See your GP if you are concerned about a night time cough or pain/ discomfort, itchy skin or persistent snoring.

  • Cortisol which is the fight or flight hormone can affect the readiness for sleep. Cortisol is produced in response to fear, anger, frustration, stress, anxiety or excitement. Cortisol makes us feel energetic and alert for many hours. It is useful to consider how we can reduce cortisol levels leading up to bedtime. Thinks about any triggers that could evoke these emotions. If your child is very excited in the bath, it may be useful to bath them at a different time of day. Any worries your child might have, are best discussed earlier in the day and not in the bedroom. It is best to avoid rough and tumble play before bed as this could overstimulate your child.
  • Complete a sleep diary to identify any sleeping and waking patterns: ​​​​​​Download Our Sleep Diary

Before starting the bedtime routine, prepare for readiness for sleep in the living room by making it as dark as possible (dimming lighting, turning off television and drawing curtains)

In the Bedroom

  • Use white noise (calming background noise) or other sounds to block out external noises.
  • Tidy the bedroom and toys.
  • Avoid sending children to their bedroom as a punishment.
  • Use minimal lighting and blackout blinds. Avoid blue and white lighting, opt for red or orange bulbs.
  • Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature

There are many sensory calming strategies that can help your child prepare for bed, here are some examples -

  • Encourage movement activities throughout the day such as trampolining. Some activities to try before bed if your child finds pressure activities calming e.g. wrap your child in a towel and roll them back and forth gently.
  • Massage to help your child fall asleep.
  • Rocking on a peanut ball.
  • Avoid rough and tumble play before bed.
  • Avoid stimulating activities such as bath time if they find it exciting or upsetting.
  • Consider how bedding and pyjamas impact on your child’s sensory needs.

A child who is feeling anxious can find it difficult to settle or sleep alone. A transitional object may help with this or a particular comfort item (e.g., a teddy bear wearing a parent's t-shirt). For more information about strategies that can help your child learn to sleep without an adult, such as gradual withdrawal.

If you are struggling with implementing routines and boundaries or sleep hygiene measures and your child is pre-school age, speak to your health visitor-

Health Visiting Service: 01633 431685 

Or you can contact your local authority for support via families first in your area if your child is school age or pre-school age -

Newport Families First: 01633 235294

Torfaen Families First North (NP4): 01495 742827 South (NP44): 01475 742854

Caerphilly IAA to request Supporting Family Change: 0808 1001727

Monmouthshire Acorn Project: 01873 735430

Blaenau Gwent Families First: 0800 323339


Parent-carer virtual workshops

Workshops will help you think about your child's sleep hygiene. There is also professional guidance during these sessions. The children's centre psychology team provides support via parent workshops to help with sleep difficulties, challenging behaviour, anxiety, sensory processing and transitions. These workshops are accessed via self-referral by emailing .

You can contact the family liaison officer at each of the children's centres if you need support with accessing the workshops:

Jayne Jones and Sarah Owen at Serennu children's centre: 01633 748013

Lisa George at Caerphilly children's centre Tel-02920 867447

Sarah Painter-Sims at Nevil Hall children's centre: 01873 732271

Additional information can be accessed via There are sleep tips as well as detailed parental information on sleep.

Improving the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of expectant mothers, infants, children and young people throughout Aneurin Bevan University Health Board Area.

(N.B: The Family and Therapies team at ABUHB is NOT responsible for the content on the webpage links that we refer to in our resource sections and linked information to external sites. All information was accurate and appropriate at the time the webpage was created.)

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