Better Sleep for Children with Autism

Better Sleep for Children with Autism

Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant

Children with autism are twice as likely to have issues sleeping than neurotypical children. How to get Better Sleep for Children with Autism? If your child has any issues relating to sleep, you can try out some of these suggestions, that include the bedtime routine and tools that might help in the evening and during wake-ups in the night.

Children with autism and sleep issues 

Did you know that autistic children are twice as likely to have issues sleeping than neurotypical children? 

Bedtime can be a struggle for all types of children and parents, but autistic children may not just struggle to fall asleep; waking throughout the night can also be an issue. 

These sleep disruptions can be a vicious circle; a child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is more likely to have disturbed sleep. Being fatigued may increase the frequency of certain autistic traits, such as repetitive behaviors, which make falling asleep much trickier for your child.

Children with ASD are also more likely to have sleep issues as they often have other comorbid conditions that can cause sleep disturbances. Stomach issues (constipation, for example) can cause stomach pains during the night, making it difficult for your child to remain asleep.

What types of sleep issues may you see?

A child with autism may be more likely to have one or more of the following sleep issues:

  • Anxiety around bedtime
  • Wake early in the morning
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty remaining asleep
  • Shorter durations of sleep

How to help your child with autism sleep better

Prepare your child for sleep

If your child has trouble at the beginning of the night, preparing your child for sleep before you're even in your child's bedroom may help bedtime go a little smoother, and, therefore, falling asleep may be a little easier. This wind-down can begin up to an hour before your go to get ready for bed. Pre-bedtime routines can look different for every family, but some possibilities for steps include:

  • If your child likes to jump on the bed, have some jump time as part of your wind-down
  • You may find some time on the swing helps your child relax
  • Turn down the lights
  • Quieten the house (if possible)

Try to keep this time as calm and predictable as is possible for you and your child. 

Mental activity

You may find that a mental rather than physical activity is a good idea before you begin your bedtime routine— sitting down and doing some colouring or reading as a family could be a better choice for your child.

Keep a predictable routine

You want your bedtime routine to be very predictable; that means doing the same steps every bedtime and even doing them in the same place. Your child may love reading the same books each night and having you sing the same songs. 

Visual chart

Your child may benefit from having a visual chart that shows your bedtime routine. You can easily make a chart yourself; you don't have to be a fantastic artist; you can always use images you find online. Pop this chart on the wall in your child's bedroom and refer to it as you move through the routine steps.

A massage

A massage may help your child relax before sleep if your child enjoys touch. You can use a massage as part of the routine or once your child has got into bed.

Comfortable pyjamas and bedding

Make sure your child's pyjamas and bedding are comfortable for them. Some families I've worked with have found snug-fitting pj's that cover both arms and legs were best for their child, but every child is an individual, and you should find what works best for them. 

Pink noise and brown noise

I'm sure you've heard of white noise, but have you heard of pink or brown noise? Who knew there were so many colours of noise? Pink noise has some of the higher-pitched tones removed. Brown noise is more of a deep rumbly sound and is my personal favourite to listen to as I fall asleep. White, pink or brown noise may not only block out household noise but can help your child to relax and fall asleep. 

Lulla doll's soothing sounds

The Lulla doll has helped many children with ASD sleep better and feel more comforted. You can read more about that here. With heartbeat and breathing sounds, it's hard not to relax when used as part of your bedtime routine, and it's safe enough to have in bed. The sounds play for 12 hours, so when your child moves through sleep cycles and comes into a lighter sleep, the heartbeat and breathing sounds are there, helping lull your child back into a deeper sleep.

If your child loves their Lulla doll, I would buy another one. It's always a good idea to have a backup, just in case. You don't want sleep to suffer because your Lulla is in the wash or got left at Grandma's.

Weighted blanket

You may find that a weighted blanket can help your child relax and sleep. Though studies show that those with ASD don't sleep any longer or fall asleep any quicker under a weighted blanket, being under a weighted blanket can be a tool to help your child relax.

Though all of these suggestions may not work for every child, and perhaps none of them will work for your child, this is a good starting point. If you have concerns about your child's sleep, you should visit their primary care doctor for more specific advice. 

Lulla doll

Lulla doll

$34.99

The unique and innovative Lulla doll has been called a miracle by parents all over the world. "I cannot praise this product high enough. From day 1, my daughter became very attached to it and has finally started to fall… read more

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