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Three children dressed in woolly hats and scarves laying down and looking at the camera.

Sleep Well, Stay Well

Sleep helps us stay strong and fight off nasty colds, flus, and viruses. In winter, we are more likely to become unwell – so it’s important we get enough sleep.

If we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies are less able to fight off illnesses. Children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities may find it more challenging to sleep.

While there isn’t one way to improve this skill, there are things we can do to support those who need it, helping everyone stay well for longer.

What are the stages of sleep?

Sleep is an important part of growing up. It helps us develop, learn, and function in everyday life. When we’re unable to sleep, we become tired and may find it more difficult to do things.

There are three types of sleep which are important. Each step helps us maintain our health and wellbeing.

Non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep can be separated into three stages. In these stages, non-REM sleep lowers heart rate and blood pressure. The three stages are:

Boy asleep in bed with a teddy bear

  • Stage N1 is a type of light sleep, where you are more likely to be woken up by sounds
    . In this stage, children are more likely to wake up if you move them.
  • Stage N2 is still a light form of sleep where you are aware of your surroundings.
  • Stage N3 is a deeper stage of sleep where children are more difficult to wake up and can be moved easier.

REM sleep (rapid eye movement), the other form, is where the body is completely unaware. When in deep REM sleep, people develop their social and emotional functions, and will feel more rested.

Five top tips to help your family sleep better

1. Establish a good bedtime routine

Children with SEN may need to learn how to fall asleep. Following a calm and relaxed routine will help them to learn what to expect. This could include:

  • Going to bed and being woken at the same time every day.
  • Reading a book or doing a jigsaw together.
  • Taking a warm bath or shower. This leads to a drop in body temperature so will help them to feel sleepier.
  • Creating visual timetables to help them understand what is going to happen next.

Try and be consistent even when it is very difficult. It may take at least a few weeks to make any difference.

2. Create a calming environment to promote sleep

It helps if your child has a restful environment to sleep in so it’s a good idea to think about:

  • Removing any distractions like electronics and toys.
  • Does your child have a comfortable bed? If they have sensory needs, you may have to consider how their bed feels and whether it meets their needs.
  • Is the room a comfortable temperature? Cooler is better than too warm.
  • Is the room dark enough? If night lights are used, they should be left on all night if it is safe to do so.
  • Is the room quiet? White noise can help block out sounds from outside but should be left on all night.


3. Introduce an evening snack with exercise earlier in the day

Snacks – You could introduce a snack before the bedtime routine to ensure your child is not going to bed hungry. However, be mindful of sugary foods.  Drinks like hot chocolate contain sugar and caffeine which are both stimulants and even fruit has natural sugars which will keep your child awake.

Exercise – Your child will sleep better if they are physically active during the day and exposed to enough daylight. Be mindful that running around too near bedtime will release adrenaline so better to be active earlier in the day.

4. Use a sleep diary to record any patterns

Everyone is an individual and sleep can be very complex. However, by identifying patterns and what seems normal for your child, you may be able to pinpoint factors that are contributing to sleep problems. Try to be consistent and keep the diary close by so that you can note things down as they occur.  You can share this diary with professionals so they have a better idea of how they may be able to help.

5. Make bedtime a positive experience

If bedtimes are a struggle and both the child and parents are anxious and stressed, then this will have a negative effect on the child’s sleep. It may be hard but try to make bedtimes a positive experience.  You could let your child pick activities to do as part of their bedtime and  use reward charts to highlight all the things that go well during this time.

Webinar: Sleep course for families

Children and young people with special educational needs are more likely to struggle to sleep.

It can be challenging to find information to support those to rest better and normal sleep strategies don’t always work for children with additional needs.

In this webinar, Nickie Sutton, specialist sleep practitioner, will help you navigate the world of sleep across two sessions.

  • Session 1: How and why we sleep? – Learn about what our brains need us to do to sleep well
  • Session 2: SEND and sleep? Understand how sensory processing differences, autism, anxiety, ADHD and other conditions make sleep harder and how you can help

You will need to commit to attend both sessions due to the strategies covered across both.

  • Thursdays 16 and 23 May 2024 10am-12pm
  • Thursdays 4 and 11 July 2024  7pm-9pm
  • Tuesdays 23 and 30 September 2024 10am-12pm
  • Tuesdays 5 and 12 November 2024 7pm-9pm                  

Teenagers and Zoom Sleep Session

  • 11 June 2024 7pm-9pm

Reserve your place today!

For more information, please contact


Meet the expert

Nickie Sutton

Nickie has been a sleep specialist for 7 years and developed the successful and effective sleep courses for Space4Autism in Cheshire which have been running for over 4 years. Prior to this, Nickie was a nurse for 34 years, and ADHD nurse specialist.

Her background means that she is scrupulous about offering evidence-based advice that is grounded in science.

She works with charities and parent carer forums across the country and in 2022, she was commissioned by the Cheshire and Merseyside Integrated Care Board (NHS) to run a new Cheshire East sleep service for neurodiverse children and young people.


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