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Sensory Processing Disorder and Sleep

A variety of conditions can impact your sleep, including sensory processing disorder. While this neurological condition may not be as well known as sleep-related disorders (such as sleep apnea), sensory processing disorder1 — which can affect both children and adults — can cause problems understanding and responding to your own senses, such as touch, movement, and taste.

So, how exactly does this affect sleep? Sensory processing disorder can make it difficult to respond appropriately to stimuli, causing people to react too much or too little. Therefore, people with this disorder may be overly sensitive to sounds that disrupt sleep or could have a tough time calming down enough to fall or stay asleep.1

Sensory processing disorder may not be on your radar, but it’s more common than you may think, affecting at least one in 20 people2. Here are signs and symptoms, and how you can get better sleep if you’ve been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition that disrupts the way people respond to information gathered by the senses, such as smells and sounds.  People with sensory processing disorder typically have one or more senses that over- or under-react to stimuli (affecting touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and/or hearing).1

Often, children with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have sensory processing disorder. However, it doesn’t always stem from the developmental side. Sensory processing disorder is also associated with premature birth, brain injury, and learning disorders.1 

While the cause of sensory processing disorder isn’t well understood, research is ongoing to better understand the disorder and how it can be treated. Sensory processing disorder is often treated with sensory integration therapy, which is a form of therapy that gently teaches people to react less or more to stimuli as needed.1

Related: Autism and Sleep, ADHD and Sleep

Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

Since sensory processing disorder can affect any combination of senses, there are numerous ways that it can present itself.1  Here are signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Being constantly active or easily fatigued, or both back-to-back
  • Withdrawing when touched
  • Refusing to eat certain foods due to their mouth feel
  • Over-sensitivity to odors
  • Hypersensitivity to certain fabrics
  • Uncomfortable with certain movements, like swinging
  • Difficulty calming down after exercise or being upset
  • Poor balance or clumsiness
  • Over-sensitivity to sounds
  • Lacking creativity or variety in play

The Relationship Between Sensory Processing Disorder and Sleep

Given its many signs and symptoms, sensory processing disorder can surprisingly affect sleep in a variety of ways for people of all ages. Although research is still ongoing to better understand the disorder, studies show a potential relationship between irregular sensory processing patterns and sleep quality.

A 2020 study3 of 231 students ages seven to 12 found a significant link between sensory processing issues and sleep, discovering that students with irregular sensory processing (such as avoidance or general sensitivity) had a harder time sleeping. This included a greater resistance to sleep caused by issues such as night wakings, sleep anxiety, daytime sleepiness, increased duration of sleep, and parasomnia.

Additionally, a 2022 study4 discovered that a group of 69 adults diagnosed with ADHD also had physical effects that included disruptions in sensory processing (10.9 percent) and sleep (22 percent). Still, more research is needed to better understand the relationship between sensory processing disorder and sleep, especially for adults.

Tips for Better Sleep with Sensory Processing Disorder

It can be tough to sleep when your body is over- or under-responding to stimuli, but there are steps you can take to get better sleep and regulate sensory response. Here are a few tricks and lifestyle changes5 to sleep with sensory processing disorder.

  • Creating a consistent bedtime routine
  • Avoiding screen time before bed
  • Relaxing in a dim, quiet space before bed
  • Listening to soothing or quiet music
  • Using a weighted or tightly wrapped blanket
  • Rhythmic motion, such as rocking in a chair
  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Meditation or light yoga
  • Use blackout shades or an eye mask for sleep
  • Using ear plugs or a white noise machine
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and using cooling sheets

If these tips don’t help you or your loved one get better sleep, you may want to seek out professional help to best manage sensory processing disorder. A healthcare professional or licensed therapist can work with you on a custom treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can sensory processing disorder affect sleep?

People with sensory processing disorder may have trouble sleeping due to sensitivity to sound, avoidance of certain fabrics (such as specific sheet material), difficulty calming down, and other issues related to the senses.1

Can kids grow out of sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing issues6 may not always disappear, but they can wax and wane with age, and can also improve with the right treatment plan and management.

How do I get a sensory seeker to sleep?

If a child or other loved one has trouble sleeping due to seeking out sensory stimulation7, you can try gentle stimulation such as using a rocking chair before bed.

Ashley Zlatopolsky

Ashley Zlatopolsky

Content Writer

About Author

Ashley Zlatopolsky is a Detroit-based writer and editor who specializes in sleep content. She writes about sleep health, hygiene and products for Sleep Advisor, Mattress Clarity, Real Simple, and more.

Side Sleeper


  1. “Sensory processing disorder”. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Webpage accessed April 5, 2024.
  2. Miller, Lucy Jane. “Understanding the sensory integration process”. STAR Institute. 2014.
  3. Rajaei, Samira., et al. “Sensory processing patterns and sleep quality in primary school children”. Iran Journal of Child Neurology. 2020.
  4. Grinblat, Nufar., Rosenblum, Sara. “Work participation, sensory processing, and sleep quality in adults with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder”. WORK. 2022.
  5. May-Benson, Teresa A. “Sleep and sensory integration: a guide for parents”. Spiral Foundation. 2018.
  6. Arky, Beth. “Do sensory processing issues get better over time?”. Child Mind Institute. 2023.
  7. “Sensory strategies for sleep”. The University of Utah. Webpage accessed April 5, 2024.