Written By: Colleen Williams, PT


Good quality sleep is something that we all want more of… for ourselves, for our children, and for the children we work with. We know that we when get a good night’s sleep, our day is a better one. We can think more clearly, learn more easily, remember more readily and we are happier. Sleep is the single most effective thing we do to reset our body and brain each day.

In an ongoing research study (NIH), children with insufficient sleep (less than 9 hours/night) relative to children with sufficient sleep had more mental health and behavioral challenges. There were also measurable differences in their brain structure with less gray matter and smaller volume in areas associated with attention, memory, and inhibition control.

Children with developmental disabilities are at an increased risk of sleep issues. This includes children with ADHD and those on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, socioeconomic disadvantaged children tend to have more sleep issues as well. Children living in urban areas are also more susceptible to sleep troubles. Good quality sleep matters! It is essential for a child’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Although we are not sleep specialists, as therapists we typically get to know our patients and families well. We need to consider how sleep or lack of sleep is affecting our child’s overall progress in their development.

We can talk to parents about their child’s sleep habits. If children are having difficulties, parents are typically very willing (and relieved) to have someone to talk to about this. Medical issues can be discussed and the possible relevance to sleep quality. A well-educated therapist knows when basic sleep information and suggestions for good sleep practices and routines are warranted vs. a referral to an outside source (pediatrician, ENT, sleep consultant, dentist).


Red Flags for Child Sleep Issues
  • Waking up several times throughout the night
  • Need to wake a child up (preschooler, elementary school)
  • Falling asleep in school
  • Falling asleep on short car trips
  • Poor behavior regulation
  • Significant bedtime anxiety
  • Snoring
  • Restless sleep disorder (child “flops” all over the bed during the night)
Sleep Tips
  • Get morning and daylight sunlight exposure, even if it’s cloudy
  • Turn off/dim lights in the evening
  • Bedroom should be dark. Try to fade out the use of night lights
  • Decrease room temperature
  • Decrease body core temperature by taking a warm bath 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • Have a light bedtime snack that is not calorically dense but with protein and fat (milk, peanut butter on a cracker)
  • No screen time at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Have a consistent simple, bedtime routine


Learn more by attending my upcoming Live Webinar, Pediatric Sleep Dysfunction, on the evening of March 27th. Hope to see you there!




Canapari, Craig, It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train: The Low-Stress Way to High-Quality Sleep for Babies, Kids, and Parents Roedale Books; 2019.

Fiese BH, Cai T, Sutter C, Bost KK. Bedtimes, bedtime routines, and children’s sleep across the first 2 years of life. Sleep. 2021 Aug 13;44(8).

Schlieber M, Han J. The Role of Sleep in Young Children’s Development: A Review. J Genet Psychol. 2021 Jul-Aug;182(4):205-217.