By Annika Zallek, MOT, OTR/L
“It takes 2 hours to get my toddler to fall asleep!” “Why won’t my baby stay asleep when I put her down in their crib?!” Getting kids to fall/stay asleep, take naps and developing effective bedtime routines can be a source of stress for parents. Occupational therapy (OT) can help parents and children with sleeping difficulties. You may be wondering what occupational therapy has to do with sleep. Occupational therapy refers to “occupations” as the daily activities and routines in which your infant or toddler participates. Sleep is an occupation and babies sleep like it’s their job! It actually IS their job at these ages as sleep helps to promote their growth and development. Occupational therapists can work on sleep with families in a variety of ways, including:
Children need to learn how to calm themselves down when they are upset, especially when it relates to going to sleep. Parents hate to hear their children cry and become upset and are often quick to comfort and reassure them. This is a completely appropriate response but past 6 months, children need to learn to calm themselves down in order to self-soothe and eventually fall asleep. OT can provide strategies for improving self-soothing skills.
-Modifying the sleep environment
Sometimes children can be overly responsive to things in the environment such as light or sound. They may prefer to sleep at a certain temperature or have more/fewer layers on them to sleep. An OT can help you assess the environment to see what changes could be made based on your child’s preferences.
-Modifying the bedtime/sleep routine
One of the most important reasons for a sleep routine is the association the child makes between the bedtime activities and going to sleep. Many times, children take baths before bedtime; there are some activities in the bathtub you can do to include your routine to help your child fall asleep. Certain foods may help toddlers sleep including bananas, oatmeal and warm milk due to their vitamins and minerals. The OT can partner with you to develop an appropriate bedtime routine for your child that will meet their needs.
If you have concerns about your child’s sleeping habits, please talk with your pediatrician and/or call for an early intervention evaluation. Hopefully it won’t be too long before both you and your child are sleeping like a baby at night!