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Calming Sensory Activities Before Bed for Sensory Seekers & Avoiders

As many caregivers know, children thrive off consistency and routines, and bedtime is no different. A bedtime routine is especially helpful because it gives children cues, physically and mentally, that it is time for them to get ready to sleep. Choosing appropriate activities that support your child in winding down before bed is key to their routine and bedtime success. As with anything, every child is different and will have varying needs to help calm before bed. Specifically, children with sensory processing difficulties struggle to regulate themselves effectively. These children may appear tired or sluggish, or the opposite – overly excited and hyperactive. Providing controlled sensory input at bedtime can help these children to calm themselves and inevitably support their sleep.

mom getting kid ready for bed

For Sensory Seekers: The Understimulated Child

This refers to children who actively seek out sensory experiences and stimulation. These children may enjoy gross motor play to feel a sense of movement as well as textures, tastes, smells, sounds, or visual stimuli that are exciting. These help a child feel engaged, focused, and satisfied. Sensory seeking children often struggle to listen, follow directions, and stay focused at bedtime if they haven’t had enough movement throughout the day. This may be evident in their restlessness, desire to be silly, inability to wind their body down, and showcasing a desire to wrestle or roughhouse before bed. Utilizing more “rough and tumble” play before bedtime provides not only the sensory input they need/desire but can also serve as a stress reliever. This type of play provides an opportunity to have fun, be silly, let off some steam, and ease tension from the day. It releases physical tension or pent-up emotions that might interfere with sleep. “Rough and tumble” play where your child is physically close to you or being pursued by you is also a great way to boost connection and nurture your relationship, which can also help children sleep.

Sensory seekers might struggle at bedtime when:

  • Too much of their day was spent sitting or without gross motor movement

  • They lack enough visual stimulation before bed

  • Their sleep space is too empty

  • They don’t have something to fidget or chew on

  • They are being rushed through bedtime or told what to do

Consider these sensory activities for a sensory seeker before bed:

  • Slow rocking movements (i.e. swing, hammock, rocking chair, holding child in a blanket and swinging them back and forth)

  • Deep pressure contact such as bear hugs, deep tissue massages, and weighted blankets

  • Have child lay down on the floor on their tummy and roll a therapy ball over their backside

  • Roll child up tightly in a blanket with head out and pressing down on them with pillows and/or pull child across floor

  • Playing soft, rhythmical music while in an enclosed space using items like blankets, soft cushions, twinkle lights, and a pop-up tent

  • Playing with slime, putty, or Play-Doh and encourage rolling, smashing, & squeezing

  • Give crunchy snacks (carrot sticks, apples, crackers, pretzels etc.) and/or things to suck on like lollypops, popsicles, thickened liquids through a straw, or oral sensory toys for chewing

  • Play games that require blowing (i.e. bubbles, through a straw, whistles, instruments)

  • Push/pull activities like pushing hands or feet on a wall, tug-of-war, & push-ups

  • Use calming warm items like heating pads, microwavable soft towels, & heated blankets

  • Encourage play with vibrating toys

  • Use calming visual toys and activities like bubbles tubes/wands, liquid motions toys, etc.

  • Play with textile items like finger paints, water beads, & kinetic sand

  • Bouncing on therapy ball or trampoline and jumping off onto a pile of pillows/cushions

  • Hold child’s legs like a wheelbarrow while they use their arms to walk around

  • Set up a pillow tower and have child tear it down

  • Lay stuffed animals on a blanket, lift them insid