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Helping your child sleep

Photo: Sleeping problems can be common in deaf children.

Sleeping problems are quite common in deaf children of all ages and not knowing why your child is experiencing them can be frustrating. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here is a round-up of possible explanations, tips on how to help your child, and where to go for extra support.

Fay is mum to Ellis-Marie who is severely deaf.
“Ellis-Marie was a very happy baby whose deafness never bothered her but about age three we started having major sleeping issues. She would scream when it was bedtime as she was scared to be alone, even with a nightlight on. She would refuse to remove her aids and constantly wet the bed.”

Reasons for sleeping problems

There are many possible reasons why your child experiences sleeping problems, for example:

  • Darkness may seem even more frightening for a child when there is no sound. They may want to know where their family is and without hearing or using their sight it can be scary for them.
  • If your child uses hearing technology, they may not like the quiet when the technology is taken out at night.
  • Many deaf children’s balance can be affected when hearing technology is removed. Deaf children can rely on their vision to know where they are in relation to objects immediately around them, which can also make them more alert and harder to wind down. They may also feel disorientated.
  • Some deaf children have tinnitus which can be loud and intrusive at night time.
  • Routines are important for deaf children to prepare to relax into sleep. Try and make sure you establish a routine that works for you and your family, Routines help deaf children to feel safe and secure and makes their environment more predictable.

Once you’ve thought about which of these reasons may apply to your child, there are lots of things you can do that may help.

Nicky is mum to Isabelle (2). Both are profoundly deaf.
“Bedtime can be scary when two key senses are taken away - namely hearing and then a pitch black room taking away sight too. So we bought a red star projector for Isabelle which she’s had since she was tiny, meaning the room is never pitch black.”

If your child is frightened or feels isolated at night

  • Leaving a night light or a hallway light on can help, or perhaps rotating light mobiles or even glow in the dark stickers that focus their attention.
  • Leave a piece of your clothing with them so they are left with your familiar smell.
  • As part of your routine tell them when you’re going to leave the room so they don’t get worried when they realise you’ve gone.
  • It’s important to make sure that the child settles in their own bed where possible. If they fall asleep on the sofa or your bed and you move them, when they wake up they will be startled to be in a new place and will need the reassurance to be resettled.
  • Reassure them about worries they may have about not hearing things like the smoke alarm in the night – speak to your local fire service about flashing smoke alarms. You can find out more on our webpage
  • It may help to tuck them in tightly so that they feel ‘grounded’. Some children are very sensory seeking. If you find your child tightly cocooned in the night they may benefit from being tucked in. Weighted blankets can often help younger children feel more secure.

Janis is mum to Martha (6), who is severely deaf.
“One of the things that’s helped is making Martha’s bed really cosy and warm. She has a crescent moon shaped pillow which cocoons her and her favourite soft toy perfectly. We also make sure she’s tucked in well as feeling cold will wake her. Something else which helps is having some light in the room.

Understandably Martha finds waking up and not being able to hear or see anything disturbing, so we make sure she always has enough light to orientate herself. She has a Groclock by her bed; this casts a reassuring blue light, with a moon face on the clock, throughout the night. At 6am the moon turns into a yellow sun and after that Martha knows she can come in to our bed for a cuddle and a snooze.”

If your child doesn’t like taking out their hearing technology

  • If they’re old enough, you could remove it for them once they’ve fallen asleep.
  • It could be left on the bedside table so they can put it back in if they wake up and feel scared.
  • Reassure them that any buzzing sound they may hear is normal.
  • Let them know they won’t be missing out on anything important or exciting because their hearing technology has been removed.
  • Make sure storytime happens before hearing technology is removed.

Nicky is mum to Isabelle (2). Both are profoundly deaf.
“Her bedtime routine is particularly solid which is vital because for the majority of it she’s without hearing - in the bath, drying hair etc. Whilst we sign and she lip-reads, the fact she knows implicitly what comes next reduces any toddler stand-offs compounded by a refusal to look at us to communicate… In the morning, Isabelle doesn’t like to wear her processors straight away, probably not for the first hour in fact. I’m exactly the same. After a whole night of peace, I’m in no rush for a barrage of sound. Once on, she doesn’t take them off until bedtime so we’re more than happy to give her autonomy over when the sounds of her day start.”

If your child has balance issues

  • It may help to tuck them in tightly so that they feel ‘grounded’.
  • Deaf children can rely on their vision to know where they are in relation to objects immediately around them, which can make them more alert and harder to wind down.

Jennie is mum to Olive (3) who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf.
“My husband Rhys lays her down and pats her firmly and rhythmically on her back until she drifts off (this sometimes works well when she wakes in the night). I sit next to her bed and cuddle her into me firmly, sometimes rubbing my palm down the length of her body and arms, as if she’s getting a massage to sleep.”

If your child has tinnitus

  • Make an appointment to see your family doctor (GP) as tinnitus is often caused by a temporary condition that your GP can treat.
  • The British Tinnitus Association website has useful information about tinnitus in children, technology that can be used, and therapies that can help to manage it.

If you’re struggling with routines

  • You could use a picture diary on your child’s bedroom wall showing the bedtime routine – bath, story, kiss, bed – and take each picture off the wall as it's completed. 
  • Make sure you do the same thing every time your child wakes up in the night, such as settling them back to bed with a soft toy, a hug or a song.
  • Use a vibrating alarm clock for older children so that they’re reassured they are waking up at the right time.
  • Let your child have a snack which helps produce melatonin. Melatonin is a neuro hormone produced by our brains. It tells us when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep. Things like bananas, wholewheat bread and strawberries contain melatonin.
  • Electronics, such as TVs, mobile phones, tablets and gaming devices emit a blue light which block the production of melatonin even with a filter on. Therefore it’s important that all electronics are switched off about an hour before bedtime.
  • Make sure you chat about the routine with your child during the day when they aren’t too tired and they’re calm.

Parents we’ve spoken to have all used slightly different routines, we’ve included some examples below to give you ideas for your own.

Hester is mum to Harold who is deaf.
“Routine has been very useful for us. For the first three-and-a-half months we struggled, Harold didn’t want to be put down to sleep.I introduced a routine of bath, bottle, book and bed far earlier then I intended on doing, and did it around the same time each night. He has similar things around him, he doesn't come back downstairs after his bath and he knows what to expect… I also tend to do the same with him before sleep, for example his sister gives him a hug and I hug and rock him before putting him down to sleep, tucking him in and giving him a kiss on the same cheek. If he stirs in the night I tuck him in again and kiss him on the same cheek and I believe this comforts him as he knows to expect it.”

Nicky is mum to Isabelle (2). Both are profoundly deaf.
“We realised how important it was to be tactile during bedtime and whilst resettling Isabelle at night. Our touch is the comfort she needs when we can’t use a soothing tone of voice like you may do with a hearing child. This has adapted to her individual needs over the years, from falling asleep in our arms, to holding her hand as she fell asleep, to simply cuddles before bed. Even now, we will sit outside the room with the door ajar until she falls asleep so she has a visual to make her feel secure.”

Jennie is mum to Olive (3) who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf.
“We have a joint bedtime story most nights, which we often sign as we tend to leave Olive’s implants off once she’s out of the bath. We try to stick to routine, but we’re no ‘Gina Ford’ family. Dinner, bath, book and bed is what we attempt… We tried lots of different things and up to now the most successful has been keeping a calm and consistent environment – people talk about ‘sleep hygiene’. For us it’s just staying in her bedroom when she wakes, keeping the same routine, same lighting and no perfume or strong smelling air fresheners (usually a few drops of essential oil on her bedding) – and using deep pressure.”

Vicki is mum to James (17), who is profoundly deaf, and Damian (14), who is severely deaf.
“It might be difficult to do but we adopted the approach of a book and a cuddle in bed until they fell asleep. Then we reduced it to a cuddle and a book and I’d sit on the bed until they fell asleep. Then it became a cuddle, a book and I sat on a chair in the bedroom until they fell asleep and then finally the last move was to sit outside the room.”

Andi is mum to Emma (6) who is severely deaf.
“We stick to a routine every day; bath time, story time, cuddles and then sleep. We bought a Mum and Me Baby Sleep Tight Balm which we apply every night; in Emma’s mind this is a magical cream which helps her sleep.”

How to get more support

After you’ve tried these suggestions, you might find you still need extra help and support. Here are some useful websites and resources, although they’re not specific to deafness they do offer plenty of practical tips and advice. We have an online information session about sleep for deaf children too which you can get more information about here.

  • The Council for Disabled Children has produced an information booklet about sleep.
  • The Children's Sleep Charity provides free training workshops for parents and professionals.
  • Contact has a useful leaflet about helping disabled children sleep.
  • Scope offers plenty of tips on sleeping, organises workshops, and works with individual families.
  • The Friendship Circle Blog features sleeping tips for children with special needs.
  • Cerebra has sleep practitioners who can offer help and advice on sleep issues, some of which include settling problems, difficulty sleeping alone and early rising. However, they only work with children who have a confirmed neurological diagnosis.
  • Sleep Scotland provides support to families of children and young people in Scotland with additional needs and severe sleep problems.

Don’t forget you can turn to professionals you work with, as well as your family and friends too.

Andi is mum to Emma (6) who is severely deaf.
“We requested support from Emma’s school, Teacher of the Deaf, family and friends and you wouldn’t believe how things began to change. It also really helped to explain to Emma that mummy and daddy needed to sleep too. We told her how much we love her but at the same time we were just exhausted. I also explained how important sleeping is for brain development – she wants to be a doctor so she needs a fresh brain every day to absorb new knowledge!”