Sensitive infants in particular seem to be less likely to sleep well.

Previous studies of children's sleep have identified a possible association between sleep difficulties and increased sensory sensitivities, but it is unknown whether sleep problems influence sensory processing or vice versa and when. Because sleep patterns evolve rapidly over the early years of a child's life, it is possible that this association is developing in infancy or toddlerhood. 

Rachel Sayers, a Lecturer in our School of Nursing, has been part of a research team with colleagues at the University of Otago exploring this possible connection between sleep and sensory processing in early childhood. This research was part of the work done by principal researcher Katie Appleyard for her PhD. Families participating in the study completed a questionnaire covering the child's overnight sleep patterns at the ages of six months, one year, two years and two and a half years. At age two and a half the children sensory processing was also measured - vision, hearing, touch, body awareness and balance and motion. The relationships between sleep and sensory variables were then analysed. 

A key finding was that sleep problems, as reported by parents, were associated with more social participation difficulties in two-and-a-half-year-olds. It appears that sleep problems from infancy may be a risk factor for social participation difficulties. Longer settling times are associated with vision, touch and hearing sensitivities. The findings suggest that addressing environmental factors around bedtime to reduce stimulation may help more sensitive children to establish healthy sleep patterns.


March 2021

Image credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem, sourced from Unsplash