Oh, sleep! The holy grail of parenthood, especially in those early months. This guide is not exhaustive and is not a replacement for consulting a health professional if you feel there are issues beyond the ‘norm’ for your babies, but might help provide some insight into if any sensory issues are at play disturbing both your baby and keeping you from your own slumber in turn!

Baby likes to spend excessive amounts of time in the crib.
Sensory explanation: If a baby is having a difficult time processing multi-sensory input, such as sound, movement or touch, then the crib may serve as a sensory retreat and low stimuli environment. Other factors may be that the familiar and predictable surrounds or smell of blankets may be comforting and soothing to the nervous system.

Ideas to help:

  • Respect this as a sensory need, knowing it is helping with neurobehavioral organisation and self-regulation.
  • Decrease the sensory stimuli within the home to see if this helps baby feel more comfortable outside the crib.
  • Use swaddling or a soft sling throughout the day.
  • With direct supervision, create a sensory retreat in the living area of the house. Do not leave baby alone!

Baby sleeps excessively (shutdown).
Sensory explanation: sometimes the only way that the nervous system can cope with all of the sensory overload and sensory dysregulation is to sleep and shut out all of the sensory input. During sleep, the brain has time to sort out all of the incoming sensory messages, those which were coming in too fast for the little one’s brain to process when awake. This tends to happen more for babies who over-register sensory information or those who struggle with sensory modulation.

Ideas to help:

  • Use this as your sensory cue and signal to decrease the overall amount of sensory input throughout the day, yet providing the types of sensory input that are calming, organising and regulating for the nervous system.
  • Provide regular and frequent doses of full body deep pressure touch.
  • Emphasize full body flexion positioning through swaddling or a soft baby carrier.
  • Watch for the signs and sensory triggers that tend to bring on the sensory overload and shutdown and adjust accordingly.
  • Limit running around from place to place. Plan errands when the baby is with another caregiver if possible.
  • Try to slow the day down and leave plenty of time to just be at home.

Baby has unusually short periods of sleep.
Sensory explanation: The sleep/wake cycle is directly linked to self-regulation which in turn is directly linked to sensory processing. If the brain and nervous system are not processing the sensory messages coming in correctly then it is not giving the brain the chance to develop self-regulate and thus stay asleep. Another explanation can be that one or more of the bodies sensory systems is hyper-sensitive (e.g. vestibular movement) and so the slightest shift physically or environmentally can wake them up. Proprioceptive input and deep pressure touch play the greatest roles in a healthy sleep/wake cycle and sometimes even the shifting of the position of the blanket, or the child rolling from leaning on the edge to not leaning can change the amount of proprioceptive input to cause the little one to wake up.

Ideas to help:

  • Try using a suspended bassinet or baby hammock, as the gentle vestibular input it provided can be a very powerful tool for assisting with self-regulation.
  • Immediately prior to naps or night time, swing the infant in a soft blanket with slow gentle movements or in a different crib or swinging chair.
  • A vibrating crib mattress can be very helpful for some.
  • Use a white noises machine or soft instrumental music to soothe and regulate.
  • Try a Slumber Bear or other soft animal that has a soothing heartbeat feature.
  • Use tight fitting pyjamas for the deep pressure touch.
  • Use an essential oil diffuser in the room with lavender and other calming oils (note: if your baby is using oxygen or other medical equipment, check this is safe).

Baby dislikes lying on his or her back.
Sensory explanation: the vestibular system is a very complex and sensitive system. The baby may not be able to tolerate the head and body in this position, especially if a quick or sudden change in position is involved. Another sensory factor may be visual input as the type and intensity is changed when lying on your back.

Ideas to help:

  • Rule out non-sensory reasons such as reflux (including silent reflux) which can cause discomfort and/or distress to babies on their backs.
  • When needing to lay the little one on his or her back, do it very slowly and whilst holding body firmly and cradling the head in your hands (even if baby can support his or her head independently). Doing this will help the nervous system adjust to the change in body position.
  • Use an inclined surface rather than lying absolutely flat.
  • Tolerating movement is critical to overall development so if this persists, assessment by an OT (Occupational Therapist) trained in sensory integration or a paediatrician is recommended.
  • Offer different types of movement that are tolerated well.
  • Offer swinging in a blanket or a lycra swing. When deep pressure touch and proprioception are incorporated into movement, the vestibular system tends to tolerate and accept it better.

Baby has extreme difficulty with falling asleep.
Sensory explanation: the sleep/wake cycle relies on so many sensory components, all which play a role in self-regulation and neurobehavioral organisation. If one or more system is not processing information correctly, this cycle can become disrupted. The sleep/wake cycle relies both on health nutrition and sensory enrichment during waking hours.

Ideas to help:

  • Try using a suspended bassinet or baby hammock, as the gentle vestibular input it provided can be a very powerful tool for assisting with self-regulation.
  • Immediately prior to naps or night time, swing the infant in a soft blanket with slow gentle movements or in a different crib or swinging chair.
  • A vibrating crib mattress can be very helpful for some.
  • Use a white noises machine or soft instrumental music to soothe and regulate.
  • Try a Slumber Bear or other soft animal that has a soothing heartbeat feature.
  • Use tight fitting pyjamas for the deep pressure touch.
  • Use an essential oil diffuser in the room with lavender and other calming oils (note: if your baby is using oxygen or other medical equipment, check this is safe).
  • Limit the amount of screen-time a baby is exposed to.
  • Incorporate lots of active floor time and exploratory play. Outside time is also essential as well as safe amounts of sunlight (use cover ups as appropriate to stay safe).
  • Provide wholesome nutritious foods if taking solids, and adequate hydration.

Baby dislikes sleep sacks (e.g. Gro Bags) and pyjamas with feet.
Sensory explanation: some little ones simply do not like to be confined; instead they prefer to be spread out and as wiggly as they can be! This is no more than a personal preference. The other sensory explanation is a defensiveness or over-registration of tactile input. The feeling and texture of the sleep sack or pyjama feet may be uncomfortable on the skin or even painful in extreme cases.

Ideas to help:

  • Try snug fitting pyjamas instead of either of the above. The snug fit provides deep pressure touch to the body which can be regulating for the nervous system and also dampen the tactile receptors of the skin if they are over-reacting.
  • Provide regular deep pressure touch to the arms, legs, hands and feet.
  • Provide daily opportunities for full body tactile play, working from ‘dry’ activities to very messy. This will help develop the tactile system to process incoming information from other sources.

Baby has to be held to fall asleep.
Sensory explanation: an infant who struggles with neurobehavioral organisation and state transition will probably have trouble falling asleep by themselves. This all falls under the umbrella of self-regulation. You are likely to be providing one or more types of sensory input whilst holding your baby (e.g. rocking, the deep pressure touch of holding tightly and cuddling them into you, the familiar smells from your body, your voice up close etc) and these combined inputs all provide calm and regulation.

Ideas to help:

  • Try a suspended crib that will sway slightly to provide gentle vestibular input along with full body deep pressure touch to support self-regulation.
  • Try gentle swinging, either in arms, crib or chair, prior to sleep.
  • Try a vibrating mattress or play mat.
  • Try white noise, either generally provided or via an app.
  • Try compression clothing or very snug fitting pyjamas/vests.
  • Use calming oils from a diffuser in the room for sleep.

Baby sleeps between crib mattress and edge of crib; craves tight spaces.
Sensory explanation: the sleep/wake cycle relies on the ability to self-regulate. A baby who tries to deliberately squeeze into these tight spaces for either sleep or to ‘hang out’ is likely to be seeking deep pressure touch and proprioception to help them make sense of their own body within the space and self-regulate themselves.

Ideas to help:

  • Try snug fitting pyjamas to increase the amount of deep pressure to the full body.
  • Try a vibrating mattress or pillow.
  • Use a ‘squish box’ or memory foam beanbag with full supervision in the daytime. These are not appropriate for sleeping though!
  • Provide full body deep pressure touch prior to bedtime and naps.
  • Increase swaddling and use a baby sling/carrier throughout the day.

 

WEBSITE DISCLAIMER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY
The information within this section is provided as a resource tool for general advice and recommendations regarding sensory integration and sensory processing development. Sensory enriched activities are beneficial for all children. This website is in no way intended to replace medical intervention or individual therapy. Please consult with your child’s paediatrician therapist for a customized program. The activities suggested on this website require direct supervision. The information on this website is attributed to Angie Voss, OTR.