The sensation of sleepiness is definitely related to all of our senses.
Thus we should try view sleepiness and staying asleep from a holistic perspective, this means we need to address sleep from all the body senses and address each one with a view to making each sense clam and relaxed.
The common 5 senses are Smell, Touch, Sight, Hearing and Taste but did you know there are two more important senses that can assist sleep, they are the Proprioception and Vestibular senses, I will be discussing these so read on :)
Here are some sensory guidelines to assist you and your little one get some much needed sleep. I have addressed each sense individually. My suggestions are based on what has worked with us as a family and what research has substantiated.
The first sense I would like to share with you is:
1. Smell Sense
I'm sure you might have hints as to what your child enjoys smelling it could be things like ice cream, flowers, trees, even carpeting. If you don't know it's ok it's not something we are inherently aware of. Just ask :) So the typical calming smells are Jasmine, lavender, vanilla, or you, your perfume, hair conditioner, deodorant. Just spray a wee bit in their room.
In our home I use a drop of vanilla essence, orange essence in some water and heat it in the microwave to get the essence wafting through the house. Do this in the late afternoon or when you get back from work so your child can begin his or her calming process. Other calming smells include citrus, lemon, watermelon, almond, warm milk and my suggestion is to try out and see what works but remember it's subtle :)
Start switching off bright lights around the house in the late afternoon. Use dim lighting where possible. A light projector is an option for children who find it soothing a rotating pattern works well as children tend to focus on the movement too.
A night light is also an option but make sure it has dim lighting. Candles have a soothing calmness but not always practical so we use a salt lamp and the glow is beautiful.
Sight relaxation is perpetuated by visual stimuli so this is a big topic as we all know that devices are bright and colorful- I don't want to condemn devices as they serve a good visual purpose and here is something unusual my child finds it relaxing enough to fall asleep to.
If your child uses devices and you find it makes them focus than the trick to device close to bedtime is a non negotiation with your child as to what you decide they can watch prior to bedtime. So you aren't taking it away but you are in charge of their viewing.
There are special dimming apps you can download that make the screen go dark I will get the app for you and put the link in comments. This makes it sufficiently dark enough to not cause over stimulation. Next up are only calming videos again I will send you a link.
3. Touch Sense
There has been a lot of talk on weighted blankets lately as a great sleep aide for kids and adults and yes it's a great idea if children respond well to it, I believe it is a follow on from the swaddling technique for babies.
My kids didn't like swaddling so I wasn't surprised when the weighted blanket wasn't greeted with enthusiasm.
Touch also involves bathing and warm water. Getting that bath in late afternoon early evening is going to hugely influence the bed time transition. Wrap your child in a plush soft towel after and off you go :)
What works for us is light soft organic smooth plain fabrics so we use organic cotton sheets, a hypoallergenic pillow and very little clutter and a soft cuddly or muslin be careful of the usual suspects- labels or string on clothing.
Another suggestion is mesh fabric found on bed rails it's such a great texture to keep close by.
The Taste sense is amongst other things associated with nourishment and it is important to create a great and calming nourished tummy environment prior to bed time.
That's where the warm milk bottle has played a part for many years even adults like a warm cuppa of something. So kids can also enjoy this treat to. It doesn't have to be warm milk it can be warm herbal tea, warm rooibos works well, vanilla infused tea, a few drops of vanilla essence in warm water, soy, almond milk substitutes are great.
It's more about the sensation of warmth into that tummy that creates and triggers the sensation of sleepiness.
Let's talk Melatonin:
It's gaining popularity at the moment and again if it works feel free to use it. Human sleep is regulated by exposure to light or to darkness. Melatonin is related to this interconnectedness in the brain. Dairy milk contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid used to manufacture a neurotransmitter melatonin. Watch out for the doses and make sure your child is getting the correct amount.
5. Hear Sense
The Auditory sense is an important one for sleep. Sometimes silence is not always golden for a good sleep. Here are two suggestions that can help:
White/pink noise- These noises combine sound of different frequencies, producing a consistent hum or whir that can be soothing.
Binaural beat recordings at bedtime can aid relaxation and improve sleep quality. Binaural beats are used to help induce various psychological states that are correlated with specific brainwave states. It's used in meditation to so it has a link to relaxation and teenagers might be more responsive to binaural beats too.
Proprioception (or kinesthesia) is the sense though which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance, senses that depend on the notion of force. It is sometimes described as the "sixth sense.
Proprioceptive input before bedtime is fantastic for calming children. Sensory seekers enjoy pressure.
Weighted blankets, weighted sheets, weighted vests are all great items to use to tick off the proprioceptive box. For some children, the blankets and vests are slightly overwhelming. There is a great item where hands are free called the weighted belt. Some parents swear by it. It isn't readily available that much NZ so I have assembled one and they are ready to purchase and it's affordable.
7. Vestibular Sense
The vestibular system provides information through the inner ear that tells us about our head position and how or if we are moving. Your understanding of movement and balance helps you coordinate the movement of your head with your eyes, enables you to use both sides of your body at the same time, tells you which direction you’re going and how fast, and enables you to remain upright.
The vestibular system is your body’s internal GPS.
To encourage sleep in terms of the vestibular system we recommend encouraging calming activities like using a rocking chair (or just rocking back-and-forth) which has a therapeutic effect on sleep. Physical rocking is used to induce sleep in infants and has been found to improve sleep in individuals with neuromuscular breathing problems.
We hope this article helps you and your child towards your journey of calming sleep.
ExperiSense Play New Zealand was created by Janine Kantor, who has over 12 years Educational experience coupled with a Masters Degree in Education and an Honours in Clinical Psychology. Additionally Janine created her own sensory messy play programme for children under 5 @messymagpies.
These sessions were inspired by her sensory sensitive daughter who needed extra loving attention when it came to all things sensory. Over the years Janine has found the best Sensorial items, aides and crafts that have assisted her daughter and she is now fully efficient in sensory activities.
Janine wanted to share her knowledge and expertise with other mums and caregivers around NZ and that is why she started ExperiSense NZ.
Here you will find a mixture of beautifully presented hand made sensory toys and aides along with carefully researched store toys too. Everything from school malleable items to chewy toys (proprioception pressure friendly) and more!
Thank you Janine for this super informative blog, its fantastic that many of the products we recommend and endorse are in tune with your recommendations such as white / pink noise, dim lamps, and aromatherapy. These can all be found on our website www.sleepytot.co.nz - Fiona from Sleepytot NZ x