Introducing a calming bed time routine

Our Sleep Service helps families to get a good night’s sleep. One of our Sleep Practitioners, Claire Varey, explains how her advice on establishing a good bed time routine helped a family to make some positive changes:

“I recently worked with a family whose little boy is 3 and has a diagnosis of Autism. He struggles with night waking and settling without his mum. Ben was falling asleep in mum’s bed each night and they would then move him to his own bed once he was asleep. He would wake most nights and have difficulty getting back to sleep without mum. He was also sleeping for long periods through the day at nursery.

We spoke about the benefit of using a calming bed time routine and, as mum wanted Ben to stay in his own bed, that the routine should finish in his bedroom, rather than in her bed. We discussed his current bedtime and identified that having a bath before bed was actually stimulating Ben. I suggested that they move it to earlier in the evening, so that he had time to relax again before bed.

Ben responded well to visual prompts, so we agreed to introduce a visual timetable to the new bedtime routine. We spoke about starting the routine an hour before mum felt he fell asleep, turning off the TV to reduce stimulation to his brain, and choosing some calming activities he could do for about 15 minutes. As a visual aid, we thought about getting a box with some activities in, which is only to be used at bedtime. Following this, I suggested offering a supper of banana and warm milk before taking Ben to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

I felt it would be useful to prepare Ben’s bedroom, using blackout blinds and a red night light, a calming smell such as Lavender and playing some calming background music. Also, once Ben is in the room and changed into his pyjamas, to offer some massage, so that he could relax further. Hopefully by this time, Ben should be a lot calmer and starting to feel tired. He also enjoys having a story read by mum, so ideally this should be a short and familiar story, and as the routine gets repeated in the same order, he will come to understand this is near the end of his routine.

We agreed that Mum would then stay with Ben until he falls asleep as the new routine starts, with the aim of gradually moving towards more independent sleep once the routine is firmly established. When he wakes at night, as the light, smell, and sound are all the same as when he falls asleep, it can help him recognise this is still night time.

After a few weeks, mum told me that since implementing these ideas Ben’s nighttime waking has reduced and he is better able to fall back to sleep when he does wake. Mum also spoke to nursery about not letting him sleep for so long or as late in the afternoon. As Ben was achieving longer sleep through the night everyone was getting more sleep and Ben’s mood was now much happier through the day. The whole family can now enjoy their time together”.

If we can help you with a sleep issue get in touch with us on 01267 244210 or e-mail us at