Rested, Happy, and Healthy: Why Sleep is Vital for Your Special Needs Family
As a coach for special needs families, I sing the praises of, and teach the importance of, a good night’s sleep for parents and children alike. Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen just how transformative getting quality rest can be in a matter of weeks. Below are a few reasons why sleep should be a priority for the health of you and your family.
Why Sleep Should Be a Priority for the Entire Family
Sleep Boosts Your Mood
When you’ve gotten your required 7-9 hours of sleep at night, chances are that you wake up feeling rested, calmer, and generally in a better mood. You’ll notice, after a few sleepless nights, how your mood and behavior can plummet—fast. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who were limited to 4.5 hours of sleep for a week reported feeling much more stressed out, sad, and short tempered.
4.5 hours a night is the average my special needs parents are getting before sleep training. Seriously.
Special needs parents go through a lot of trauma from day one of their child’s life and have to constantly fight for their child to get the help they need. Poor sleep can aggravate feelings of anxiety, depression, and more. To be able to put on your armor and hold your shield and sword, you must have a chance to recuperate.
For children with disabilities, not only are they more prone to temper tantrums and meltdowns, they’re in a constant state of “fight or flight”—highly stressed and not able to regulate themselves. This overtiredness makes it nearly impossible for them to be successful at school or in therapy. Parents often have to call off sessions and just drive back home. Their child is just too tired.
With even one extra hour each night you can feel lighter and help your child to thrive in all areas of their life.
Sleep is Essential for Brain Growth and Development
The brain is the command center that controls everything that we do—our movements, thoughts, bodily functions, hormone regulation, and more. For children with special needs, the brain has not made certain changes or connections which have caused delays in speech, mobility, emotional regulation, and more. Making sure that your child is getting adequate sleep is crucial for them to process the information they learn from the day and to make the milestones they need. While we sleep, the brain is working overtime to organize and do some sprucing up so that you can start the next day with a clean slate. The more opportunity that your child has to rest, new abilities develop or get stronger and the brain is much more organized.
Don’t forget—the adult brain is already formed, but still making changes. Our adult brains go through the same process each night, too. Sleep is an incredible tool to help boost memory, reaction time, and more!
Sleep Opens the Door for Independence
Chances are, you’ve been told by numerous people that your child “will not...”, “won’t be able to...”, “can’t learn to…”, the list goes on. This can shake the confidence of the strongest people. How disempowering it is to hear that over and over, child and parent alike! And when you’ve only been suggested medication and melatonin to help your child sleep it can feel like you’re out of options. But, teaching your child to sleep well and on their own opens the door to independence in other areas of life. Often, parents will tell me that once their child is sleeping well they have the confidence to pursue other things like potty training, new therapies, and more. Teaching a child to sleep well can be done at any age, any level of ability. This is simply because all kids with special needs have the potential—they just need to be given the chance and a path to win!
For parents, when your confidence has been knocked so many times by the “professionals,” you have all the glory, and all the rights to gloat for teaching your child the incredible life skill of sleeping well. How awesome is that? You deserve every opportunity to stand taller, tie that cape tighter, and be the awesome super parent that you are.
The demands on the special needs family are unique—and there’s just that much more that parents need to stay on top of. Day in day out, your child is seeing numerous specialists, doctors, therapists, and more. They’re doing hours of ABA each week, physical therapy intensives, feeding therapies. It’s exhausting work! Allowing your child the chance to learn how to sleep well, and to give yourself permission to prioritize your sleep. It is crucial for your family to thrive.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Special Need Sleep Consultant, Doman Method® Coach
Melissa Doman is a sleep consultant for special needs families who’ve had it with sleepless nights, anxiety, stress-filled days, and doctors who say their child's sleep issues can't be fixed. Melissa helps children sleep better and independently so parents can see them grow, thrive, and use these sleep skills for years to come. Melissa has worked with children diagnosed with Cerebral palsy, Trisomy 21, Autism, ADD/ADHD, developmental delays, and more. She loves coaching parents to get their kids sleeping well and independently.