Sensory Influences On Sleep


BY Megan Faure

If your baby isn’t sleeping well, you are in good company – more than 50% of babies have sleep problems in the first three years of life. Sleep is definitely the most complex of all infant behaviours so it’s no wonder it’s the one that provides the greatest challenge in the early years.

As a new parent in a sleep deprived state, you will probably look at teething, illness, hunger and separation anxiety as causes for the disrupted nights. And this would be sensible. However, it is really worth looking at simple sensory issues too before thinking about sleep training your little one. Here are 5 simple sensory strategies you should consider to help your baby sleep well:

• Melatonin and light – Deep in our brains is a tiny gland, called the Pineal gland that controls the release of our sleep hormone Melatonin. Melatonin, when released induces sleep and so is a very useful tool in preventing bedtime battles. Melatonin is released in response to a sensory trigger in the visual system, namely the absence of light. To do this, dim the lights in your baby’s room and keep a regular bedtime.

• Movement and sleep – Our vestibular system registers head movement and our muscles and joints register muscle movement. Both forms of sensory input are associated with improved sleep – this is the reason why babies in utero sleep better during the day (due to the lulling movement of the moms body) and why we all sleep better after an active hike or a day of activity. With this in mind, make sure your baby gets enough movement during the day to sleep well at night.

• Sensory comfort objects – We have more touch receptors around our mouth than anywhere else on our bodies and we use these touch receptors to self-sooth. Provide opportunities for your baby to self-sooth with touch, such as dummies and doodoo blankies.

• Bedtime sensory strategies – A bedtime routine with predictable soothing sensory experiences is one of the best ways to encourage your little one to settle to sleep without a fight. Make bath time count by using calming smells and massage.

• Sensory input that decreases state – The aim for your little one to not wake at night is reasonable if she is old enough to go without a feed and if she is comfortable. If you have ticked these boxes, you can use soothing sensory input such as white noise, to keep her in a deeper state of sleep.