7 sleep solutions for adoptive parents

It’s World Sleep Day, so here’s the first of two posts from me today on the subject of sleep. (The second one is here.) Do your children struggle to settle or wake up before dawn? This has been a struggle for us, and we now have a number of strategies in place. Here are my 7 sleep solutions.


Charlotte (now 8) has always had sleep issues: both settling to sleep and waking early. For the first two years she was with us (ages 3 and 4), her bedroom was just the other side of the wall right behind the head of our bed. We heard every clonk on the wooden floor, and she used to knock on the wall for attention, too, often at 5.00 am. As you can imagine, this was not a delight.

Eventually we swapped rooms and gave her what had been our home office (Pete and I both work from home). This has helped a lot, not least because that room is carpeted, though in some respects it has moved the issue rather than solving it. I’m aware not everyone has the luxury of being able to swap rooms, so here are my seven suggestions for a better night’s sleep.

1: Use blackout blinds. And curtains. And tents.

We have both blackout blinds and blackout fabric sewn onto the girls’ curtains. It is a huge help in the summer, especially when the clocks change in March and they deny that it can possibly be time to go to sleep. I’ve also seen bed tents which look like they would be helpful, though haven’t tried them here yet.

2: Stick to routines.

Since Charlotte wakes early regardless of bedtime (we’ve experimented with this), the children’s bedtime in our house is 6.00pm. We allow them to read or play quietly in their rooms until 7.00, and then the rule is that they need to put their thing away and sleep.

3: Use attachment tools.

We have a selection of slightly crumpled photos of us all that go to school with them and under their pillows when required. We’ve also sometimes given them T-shirts or jumpers of ours so that we are ‘with them’ at night.

4: Use familiar smells.

We worked with the girls’ occupational therapist to work out which smells they find calming. Turns out they both find chamomile really relaxing, so they now have a hanky with a few drops of chamomile oil on that they keep under their pillow (and sometimes also take to school). If they’re really dysregulated then sometimes my old teddy will make an appearance and that also helps, which I think is probably because it smells like me.

I know a lot of parents also swear by Lush’s ‘Sleepy’ cream. We use it on both girls’ chests at bedtime – the jury is out on whether it has much effect in helping them settle, but it works as a routine and as an attachment-promoting sensory activity so it’s staying for now.

5: Provide (quiet) fidget toys.

Some of our family’s fidget toys are listed here. Some of these help at bedtime if only to distract Charlotte from peeling the wallpaper off her bedroom wall, chewing her curtains (who knew that was a thing?) or smearing the lip balm she pilfered from someone’s pocket at school all over her bed.

6: Use a Kindle with timer controls.

I love Kindles. (Here’s more about why.) Basically, they are virtually indestructible with the childproof case on, the parental controls are great, and they allow me to think straight for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the girls catch up with CBBC on Kids’ iPlayer without arguing like they do when they have to share the TV remote control. I know people say the blue light before bed is unhelpful but it does seem to help our two calm down. It’s also great motivation for getting them to get changed and brush their teeth more quickly than they otherwise would.

7: If all else fails, try medication.

Sleep problems (both settling and re-waking) are common in FASD. Some families have had success with a dose of melatonin shortly before bedtime. If nothing else has worked, this might be worth discussing with your GP.

Which sleep solutions work for you?

What are the sleep solutions you use in your house? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Perhaps you co-sleep or end up sleeping on your child’s bedroom floor in order to get them to settle. Please let me know in the comments. And if you’ve found this post helpful, I’d love it if you’d use the buttons below to share it. Thanks!

PS You might also like to read today’s other World Sleep Day post: Sleep: the best form of self-care?


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