Sensory Strategies for Children Who Can't Fall Asleep

By David B. Ryan
Some children need comforting tactile experiences, like petting a toy bear, to relax before sleep.
Some children need comforting tactile experiences, like petting a toy bear, to relax before sleep.

Sleep helps children build healthy bodies and develop brain cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The Mayo Clinic reports that infants and toddlers need nine to 10 hours of nightly sleep with several hours of naps during the day, while most school-age children operate well with nine to 11 nightly hours of sound sleep. Adults, in comparison, need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, according to Mayo researchers. Children with sleeping problems frequently find routines that soothe the senses one way to bring needed sleep.


Household lighting helps let children know it's time to sleep, and the University of Michigan Health System recommends using light to promote sleep time. Dim the house lights an hour before bedtime to create a calming environment for sleep. The health system notes dim light signals the brain to begin the sleep-wake cycle. Some children can't fall asleep because of nightmares. These are normal, according to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, and they interfere with relaxing for sleep. Lighting in these cases helps children sleep. Place a small, dim nightlight in the child's room to allow light enough to investigate nighttime creeks and noises. This gives the child the ability to quickly look around and have the security to go to sleep.


The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends turning off the television, shutting down electronics and turning to music as a sensory sleep aid for children. A soothing musical repertoire played a half-hour before bedtime signals sleep, and also masks any household sounds when family members continue regular routines while younger children sleep. Select similar instrumentals without any abrupt changes or loud sounds, and loop the music so it cycles continuously without stopping or starting places. Once your child falls asleep, lower the volume gradually and then turn off the music.

White Noise

White noise is a term used to describe natural, soothing sounds used to distract your child from waking noises. Noise machines recreate the sounds of light rain, soft waves crashing on the shore and birds singing. Some machines recreate the sounds heard by a baby in the womb. Parents, according to the University of Michigan Health System, also use fans or vaporizers to make white noise. Activate the white noise machine an hour before bedtime to create a uniform background for sleeping.

Bedding and Preparation

Comfortable bedding adds a sensory element encouraging sleep. Children associate sleep with putting on soft jammies, and night clothes that fit well to allow for sound sleep. One-piece pajamas with built-in feet should allow space for growing feet and bodies. Sleep clothing made natural fabric helps soothe toddlers who enjoy feeling smooth textures, and avoids distractions such as rough seams or hems. A calming bedtime schedule that includes taking a warm bath, nightly back rub and reading a short book also adds a relaxing sensory routine before bedtime, according to the Mayo Clinic.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.