#261 - Sensory Friendly Bedtime Routines

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC June 21, 2023

#261 - Sensory Friendly Bedtime Routines

Listen & Subscribe on Your Platform of Choice:

Sensory Friendly Bedtime Routines

In today’s episode, we dive into the topic of bedtime routines for kids. First we explore our own personal bedtime routines with our children and offer practical strategies for creating an enjoyable and effective bedtime routine. We then discuss the importance of incorporating sensory activities during the day and after dinner to help prepare children for a restful night's sleep.

We also tackle some questions that our listeners have about sleep and the bedtime routine. From dealing with bedtime battles to tips for soothing anxious little ones, we've got you covered.

So, sit back, relax, and tune in to our podcast as we share our experiences and advice on how to create a successful bedtime routine for your children. Whether you're a new parent or a seasoned pro, or a therapist working with children who struggle with sleep, there's always something new to learn about helping your child get the rest they need to thrive.

Make sure to check out all of our links below!

We’d love to answer your questions on the podcast! Fill out this form -> https://harkla.typeform.com/to/ItWxQNP3

Looking for more in-depth help? Sign up for 2-on-1 Mentoring With Us!!


All Things Sensory Podcast Instagram

Harkla YouTube Channel

Harkla Website - Shop Sensory Products!

Harkla Instagram

Episode 3 Improving Sleep for Sensory Seekers

Episode 56 Navigating Bath Time and Water Play

Episode 69 Demystifying Sleep Training

Episode 137 Sensory Strategies for Better Sleep Quality

Episode 161 Find the Underlying Cause by Looking at the Whole Child

Episode 187 Meeting the Sensory Threshold

YouTube 6 Strategies to Help Your Child Take a Bath

Free Sensory Checklists


Sensory-Friendly Bedtime Routines

Sleep is an essential aspect of our daily routine as humans and crucial for our overall well-being. When a family member struggles with sleep, it can impact the entire family and their daily lives.

We will explore common reasons children struggle with sleep and offer practical strategies to enhance sleep quality. Our primary focus will be on the daily routines and activities before bedtime that can affect a child’s ability to fall asleep and maintain a restful sleep.

Bedtime Routine Experiences Of Jessica And Rachel

Sometimes, we can gain insight into how to deal with challenging situations with our children by learning from the experiences of other parents. In this context, we would like to share the success stories of two mothers, Jessica and Rachel, who effectively established sensory-friendly bedtime routines for their kids.

Rachel’s Bedtime Routine

While Rachel values consistency in her daily routine, the arrival of warmer weather means that she now prioritizes spending some time outside before starting the bedtime routine. Their go-to outdoor activities include playing on the back patio, taking leisurely walks, or riding a bike.

Following dinner, they frequently participate in high-energy play that may involve roughhousing, wrestling, jumping, crashing, and using the beanbag chair as a launch pad from the couch. They also enjoy using an air mattress to catapult themselves onto the trampoline or the nugget and swinging from a sensory swing.

After the bath, they engage in gentle physical activity, then motivate their children to put on their pajamas and take their vitamins. Sometimes, they may also have a light bedtime snack.

At present, they use a divide-and-conquer strategy for bedtime. Rachel’s husband puts their son to bed by reading stories and showing him movie clips on his phone. Meanwhile, Rachel feeds their daughter before settling her down in her bed.

Jessica’s Bedtime Routine

Jessica’s bedtime routine is relatively consistent since her son is now nine and a half years old. The only variation is when he has martial arts classes, which pushes back their routine as the classes are before dinner.

During the summer, they plan to make some slight changes to their routine, possibly permitting him to have additional screen time in the evenings compared to the school year. Besides, they can enjoy swinging at the park near their home after dinner with more daylight.

One hour before his bedtime, they begin their routine. He changes into his pajamas, brushes his teeth, and they read together.

They’re reading the Harry Potter series, savoring a chapter every night to relax and unwind. Afterward, they engage in some active play and roughhousing before he puts his things away, hops into bed, and chats for a minute before turning off the lights.

Usually, he may still get up once or twice to share something on his mind. However, he returns to his bed promptly after finishing his conversation.

Bedtime Routine For Successful Sleep

Reflect on the day leading up to bedtime and assess your child’s activities that may impact their sleep quality. Are they engaging in enough physical activity throughout the day?

Consider if your child is participating in outdoor activities such as playing, running, or climbing versus spending considerable time on screens. Such habits can significantly impact their ability to unwind and fall asleep at night.

It may be helpful to keep a screen time journal for your child, especially if they are home for long periods. Also, keeping track of and documenting the hours they spend on screens during the day.

You might discover that the total screen time is higher than initially thought. This realization could clarify why your child has difficulty falling asleep at night.

Consider your child holistically since a routine for one family may not work for yours, and vice versa. Here are a few additional questions to reflect on:

  • Is your child consuming an adequate amount of fluids throughout the day? Is it possible that they are dehydrated?
  • Are they eating a balanced and nourishing diet? Could their food contain excessive additives or added sugar?
  • Could particular objects in their room affect their ability to maintain an organized nervous system?

Maintaining a food journal to track their consumption and nutrition can prove immensely useful. It’s crucial to remember that various factors, including food additives, can significantly impact one’s sleep quality and ability to maintain a structured routine.

Pre-Bedtime Routine Activities

Your child can utilize the two to three-hour period between dinner and bedtime to unwind and destress. It’s essential to ensure that they engage in adequate sensory activities and physical exercise during this time.

Meeting your child’s sensory needs and threshold can help facilitate a smooth transition into winding down. Engaging in outdoor activities such as bike riding, playing with chalk, scooters, wrestling, jumping and crashing, climbing trees, monkey bars, and swinging can be an excellent way to achieve this.

Incorporating a visual schedule during these activities can be beneficial. By displaying dinner and activity options on their schedule, children can better understand what to expect, helping facilitate a seamless transition into the bedtime routine.

Sensory Techniques For Enhancing Your Bedtime Routine

If your child has a high sensory threshold and requires more input, it’s crucial to ensure adequate stimulation during the two to three hours before bedtime. When referring to a high sensory threshold, we want to avoid attempting to calm a child’s nervous system before receiving sufficient sensory input.

If your child has a high sensory threshold, they may require activities such as jumping, crashing, running, and swinging to meet their sensory needs. Attempting to calm them down without providing adequate sensory input can be counterproductive.

If your child has a high sensory threshold, creating a sensory circuit can be helpful. This may involve jumping on a trampoline, crashing onto a crash pad, and performing a slow animal walk to place puzzle pieces.

Repeating this sequence multiple times allows your child to receive the necessary sensory input. To incorporate various senses, consider the following:

  • Diffusing essential oils.
  • Turning on slow, rhythmic music or brown noise.
  • Using a metronome set to 60 beats per minute and performing jumping jacks in time with the beat.
  • Altering the lighting in the room by dimming the lights, using red or twinkle lights, and incorporating lava lamps or salt lamps.
  • Using a vibrating toothbrush or hairbrush can provide oral or tactile stimulation.
  • The Wilbarger brushing protocol uses a soft, dry brush to brush the skin to provide deep tactile input.
  • Spending time outside without sunglasses in the morning can help kickstart your melatonin production for the evening and stimulate your internal clock

Creating a sensory-friendly bedroom is helpful for a child’s sleep environment. This can be achieved by using blackout curtains, reducing visual clutter, and opting for a nightlight that emits red light rather than bright white or yellow light.

Lastly, incorporating sensory-friendly bedtime snacks can also aid in promoting sensory regulation. Snacks that are crunchy or resistive, like bananas or fruit leather, can be beneficial.

Q&A From Podcast Listeners And Clients

We often receive various questions from podcast listeners and clients about sleep. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions:

If our child is waking up in the middle of the night with excessive energy, should we continue allowing activities like jumping and crashing on a beanbag chair before bedtime?

One must examine their entire daily routine to understand why someone is waking up in the middle of the night. Are they experiencing bad dreams that may interrupt their sleep, or are they waking up due to insufficient stimulation during the day?

Is there a pattern to your child’s nighttime awakenings? Do they complain of any physical discomfort, such as stomach pain? If so, it may be worth investigating further, such as conducting tests for food sensitivities, parasites, or other underlying issues that could impact their sleep.

Be sure to incorporate sensory input into the bedtime routine and pre-bedtime activities. It’s also important to limit screen time during the day.

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night and seems alert and happy, consider whether they can self-regulate and fall back asleep independently. If they require assistance, try using a weighted blanket or lycra sheet.

Another option is to use a clock that changes colors to signal when it’s time for the child to sleep and wake up. The clock can start red, transition to yellow, and finally turn green, indicating it’s time to wake up.

This visual cue can be helpful for children to understand when it’s appropriate to sleep or wake up. For instance, if your child wakes up in the middle of the night and sees that the light is still red, they know it’s bedtime.

What can be done when an almost two-year-old consistently engages in hyperactive behavior before bedtime despite having adequate proprioceptive input throughout the day? For instance, even after spending time at the park, taking swim lessons, and visiting a splash pad, the child continues to display restless behavior at night.

Engaging in too many activities can have the opposite effect and wind kids up, causing them to stay awake. This may occur with children who receive a lot of stimulation and proprioceptive input during the day, especially when there is a lot of visual and auditory input.

The child may be overstimulated because the activities are not calming. Incorporating slow proprioceptive input into the bedtime routine can be helpful, such as crawling with a weighted lap pad or performing slow-motion movements.

Massage or deep pressure can promote relaxation along with slow proprioceptive input. Other techniques like deep breathing exercises, using Yogarillas activity cards, or practicing yoga with a video, such as Cosmic Kids Yoga, can also be effective a few hours before bedtime.

If the child is engaged in many activities during the day, reducing the number of activities may be helpful to allow for more calm and relaxation.

If a child exhibits these behaviors, how much time would you suggest allocating before bedtime to address their sensory needs?

The time needed to fulfill a child’s sensory needs before bedtime varies. If the child has a high sensory threshold and requires more input, they may need more time.

It is recommended to allocate at least an hour for the bedtime routine. However, depending on the child’s activities during the day, the time needed for sensory input before bedtime may vary.

For instance, if the child engages in a lot of heavy work and movement during the day, they may require less sensory input before bedtime than when they spend more time on screens. Therefore, adjusting the duration of the bedtime sensory routine based on the child’s activities during the day can be beneficial.

I need to find a creative and safe way to provide my child the sensory input that they need while living in an RV or a small space. I always use couches, beds, and get outside as much as possible. Any other ideas for proprioceptive input?

Spending time outside in a more open space, away from the city, can provide excellent opportunities for grounding work. When indoors, you can use couches and beds creatively by removing cushions and pillows to create tunnels to crawl through or balance beams to walk or jump on.

Although it might create temporary clutter, this obstacle course can benefit the child’s sensory input. Moreover, having the child help with putting everything back in place provides an additional opportunity for heavy work.

Are there any strategies to prevent additional overstimulation while providing the necessary sensory input before bedtime?

Providing sensory input is primarily a trial-and-error process, so it’s difficult to say whether a particular strategy will work. However, one effective technique we’ve found is the ‘turtle crawl,’ where something is placed on the child’s back, and they are encouraged to crawl slowly.

Additionally, engaging in deep breathing exercises or clapping to a metronome set at 60 beats per minute can help regulate the child’s body after reaching its threshold. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that every bedtime will be perfect.

Some nights will be more challenging than others, but that’s just part of life; however, if you consistently meet your child’s sensory needs and establish a routine, you’re more likely to achieve successful sleep. We hope these tips have been helpful, and we encourage you to incorporate some of these activities into your routine. 

Check out our video about 5 Sensory Activities and Strategies for the Best Bedtime Routine




While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in All Things Sensory by Harkla

#316 - Supporting Mixed Sensory Needs in Children and Adults
#316 - Supporting Mixed Sensory Needs in Children and Adults

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC July 09, 2024

Read More
#315 - Pediatric Pelvic Health Occupational Therapy with Quiara Smith, OTR/L
#315 - Pediatric Pelvic Health Occupational Therapy with Quiara Smith, OTR/L

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC July 02, 2024

Read More
#314 - Increasing Motivation to Complete Challenging Primitive Reflex Integration Activities
#314 - Increasing Motivation to Complete Challenging Primitive Reflex Integration Activities

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC June 25, 2024

Read More
Liquid error (layout/theme line 1054): Could not find asset snippets/oneclickupsellapp-theme.liquid