How to Help a Highly Sensitive Child Sleep

A child’s bedtime is for many parents a highlight. That moment when your child falls exhausted into bed and drifts off peacefully to dream land within minutes, giving you a few hours well earned rest before you follow suit. Except for many parents of highly sensitive children (HSC) this bedtime scenario is far from reality. For many parents of HSCs bedtime is a disaster zone and a routine that lasts hours. HSCs struggle with transitions and bedtime is a huge one! So how you can help a HSC settle at night and get a good night’s sleep?

The Importance of Sleep

We all know that sleep is important. It’s the foundation of a day, especially for a HSC. A tired HSC is more easily overwhelmed by things going on around them.

A tired HSC can no longer process the stimuli coming in to their bodies and a meltdown is inevitable.

It’s important for us all to get to bed on time and sleep soundly if we want to get up the next day and start on the right foot. For a HSC it’s vital. In fact, a HSC will possibly need more sleep than other children.

Unfortunately, HSCs often have serious issues getting to sleep, and staying asleep. It’s a vicious circle.

Sleep Problems Start as Babies

Many parents of HSCs look back and admit that their children as babies weren’t great sleepers. They envied those parents with babies who seemed to be able to sleep anyplace with noise around them.

And man I am talking from personal experience. I ended up back in hospital after the birth of my third son due to sleep deprivation – it hits hard. My third child had silent reflux. He didn’t sleep. Period. I don’t know how he survived on so little sleep – but he broke me and his father for sure during those early weeks. At age five he’s still a terrible sleeper.

My eldest had ‘colic’ and sleeping and napping was a drama from week two.

My second-born was also a ‘colicky’ baby and a disastrous napper for the first six months of his life.

All three are highly sensitive children.

Bedtime has always been a drama in our house.

Why Does a HSC Struggle at Bedtime?

Every noise within a three mile radius is picked up and stops a HSC from even possibly remotely thinking about going to sleep: the birds are chirping, a dog is barking in the distance, people are talking in their backyards. A HSC focuses on every noise as if projected into their room with an amplifier.

Or their imagination runs away with them and that wind blowing gently through the trees is interpreted as an approaching hurricane.

That shadow on their cupboard is a monster waiting to come out as soon as you leave the room.

A HSC spots every tiny minuscule movement in their bedroom and imagines the worse – a tiny spider scuttling across the ceiling is suddenly a threat waiting to attack once sleep hits.

That incident on the school playground today suddenly seems like the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of their school career.

That test today could have gone better. That goes over and over in their mind and they beat themselves up for the mistakes they made.

The smell of dinner still lingers in the house.

Your HSC suddenly needs to know what happens when someone dies, because they just remembered they saw a dead bird today.

In other words, just as a child should be shutting their systems down to go to sleep a HSC is alert and processing everything that has gone on that day. Instead of a calm mind a HSC lies in bed with a mind that is racing. And one that cannot settle.

Tips to Help a HSC Get to Sleep

Routine

HSCs are often children who benefit greatly from predictable bedtime routines. A HSC that knows what time they need to start their bedtime routine, and is clear on what they need to do, is often calmer by the time they get into bed. This is often trial and error to see what works for you, your child and your family in general.

The routine in our house stems from a lights out time and works backwards. It centres on one on one story time. A visual reminder hangs so the boys know exactly what needs to happen. If it’s strayed from then we certainly know about it. How I laugh when I am told not to worry if my boys go to bed later than normal because they’ll sleep in in the morning – nope, that’s not what happens! Instead I have a child who rises at the same time but who cannot get through the day without more meltdowns that usual…….

Tip 1: Make bedtime predictable, visual and clear.

Calm

The calmer a child is getting into bed, the more chance they have of falling asleep. This is again hit and miss in terms of what works for your child but in our house relaxation and meditation CDs for children work every time for my eldest. An audio story book or bedtime music works for my youngest two. (Check out the bottom of this post for resources we use).

Sometimes it’s clear that there’s just too much whirring around one of my son’s heads so an evening walk is in order. Or a run up and down the street.

As soon as we start the bedtime routine I emphasise that it’s now quiet time. They only thing they should be doing is bedtime related activities.

Between dinner and bedtime there is generally no screen use or TV time.

A bath helps too.

Or a cuddle.

Or a massage.

My boys have story time too with either me or their father and it’s an important part of the day for them and us – one on one dedicated time. Calm moments before climbing into bed or putting the lights out.

Tip 2: Keep bedtime a calm affair.

Emotions

Sometimes a child needs to go through their day with you, just to get it out and be able to process how they feel. Sometimes they need your help to process their emotions. Children have a habit of trying to do this as they are lying in bed and you are saying your goodnights. This kind of discussion at this stage of the say rarely helps getting a child off soundly to sleep. Try and build other moments in to the day when you can spend time listening to your child about their day, or about something that is worrying them.

You could also encourage your child to write about their day and then talk it though with them.

In other words a child will find it hard to fall asleep if their bucket is full.

Tip 3: Get emotions out before bedtime.

Resources

Meditations CDs for kids:

Amazon.UK link (picture)

Amazon.com link

Meditation Books for Kids:

Amazon.com link

Amazon.com link

Write it Out:

 Try a Gadanke Journal to get your child writing out their day, their feelings or something that is troubling them.

Or for the Dutch speakers amongst you try a Smoeltjes Schrift

Smoeltjes Schrift

For more resources check out the Happy Sensitive Kids resource page.

Over to You: Does your HSC have sleep issues? What helps your HSC settle at night? 

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About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. I was born in Britain but live in the Netherlands. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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3 Responses to How to Help a Highly Sensitive Child Sleep

  1. Crystal Norman says:

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. We have found that using white noise has made a great difference for bedtime and sleeping. We didn’t want to use just a fan for noise so we researched air purifiers (which works wonders for the air quality as well) . We have a loft style bunk bed from Ikea and have the air purifier underneath. We have it on a remote switch and after our bedtime routine the last step is turning on the air purifier, tuck in and say goodnight. He is 5 and we have done this for years, it is huge for good sleep. We do take a small purifier when traveling and it works perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting solution. I looked into white noise ideas at one point but everything irritated as opposed to soothed. Interestingly enough though fans are not a problem. Never considered they might actually be helping! Thank you for taking the time to share what works for your family!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carolina says:

    Thank you for this article. We have always read to our girls (6 and 9) at bedtime and also sung to them before going to sleep. While this has always worked a treat, our family is now going through a transitional time. This morning the girls’ school chaplain (who is so so lovely and understanding) advised me to look into the highly sensitive child / gifted child, so that is what I am doing.
    Our bedtime routine the last few weeks has included reading time, song time, essential oils going in the diffuser, essential oils on temples/neck/wrists/feet, and laying with my youngest until she goes to sleep while we listen to relaxing music.
    Thank you for the suggestions regarding finding a different time of day to talk about the day’s events and also the journals, what a fantastic idea.

    Like

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