Sleep is one of those things that can make or break our bodies and plenty of it allows us all to function correctly. However, sleeping can be a significant concern when it comes down to children and adults who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Many studies show that most children with ASD find it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep at night. The lack of sleep can heighten some behavioral characteristics such as aggression, hyperactivity, and the ability to concentrate. Therefore, people affected by it can find it quite hard to sleep, which can lead to various struggles at school, in the workplace and can generally affect their life quality.
We decided to create this resource to highlight the most common sleep issues among children and adults with ASD. We will see how autism spectrum disorder might affect one’s sleep, what are the most prominent treatment options, the “do’s” and the “don’ts” as well as tips and other useful resources to tackle sleep issues when diagnosed with ASD:
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
The most authoritative guide for evaluating and diagnosing mental health disorders in the U.S. is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and here are the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder according to the latest definition as follows:
Deficits in interaction
Here we are talking about the continuous deficits when it comes down to social interaction and communication in diverse settings. Usually, that means a lack of engagement in activities and conversations, as well as atypical approaches or failure to respond in some social affairs. People with ASD generally have deficits in understanding and maintaining different types of relationships regarding their surroundings and the development with which the world moves.
Restricted and repetitive behavioral patterns may be manifested in speech, motor movements, or the use of everyday objects. For example, some of these tendencies can include mimicking others, repeating peculiar phrases, and continually lining up items in the same way. Something that is possible to occur is the unreasonably harsh breaking of set patterns when people with ASD are asked to do so. Smells and sounds can be a considerable factor in their hyperactivity or deep fixation on a specific subject.
The DSM-5 notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disabilities are frequently co-morbid, but that doesn’t mean that both classifications carry the same sets of diagnostic criteria. Symptoms of ASD don’t have to be explained by other conditions that come with development delays and intellectual disability.
Often people are diagnosed and treated as adults, however, the symptoms usually have been present during the early development of a set person. When symptoms are enough to cause significant difficulties in the surrounding environment or current functioning, that’s when looking for help and information is the best option.
How Can ASD Affect Sleep?
A study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews shows that 80% of children with ASD have sleeping problems when children that had not been diagnosed with ASD have a rate between 9% to 50%. The rate is also higher when it comes down to developmental disabilities and social interaction. Recent studies created by a UK-based advocacy group showcases that adults and children with ASD often have the following sleep issues:
- Trouble with falling asleep
- Difficulty with staying asleep through the night or sleep maintenance
- Early waking in the morning
- Short sleep duration
- Fragmented sleep associated with unpredictable sleep patterns through the night
- Elevated anxiety and hyperarousal before bed
- Excessive daytime drowsiness and fatigue
The set study titled ‘Sleep Problems and Autism’ also recognizes several fundamental causes for these sleep problems which are directly or indirectly related to individuals that have been diagnosed with ASD. They include:
Mental health disorders
Often conditions like depression and anxiety are co-morbid with Autism which can lead to different sleep disorders such as insomnia. Almost 50% of children with ASD have exhibit symptoms of ADHD, which itself can cause elevated mood swings around bedtime.
Irregular circadian rhythm
This is the 24-hour biological clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in people based on temperature, sunlight, and other environmental factors. Many people with ASD experience irregularities with their sleep-wake cycle because the circadian rhythm is processed in the brain of a human. Some studies mention a link between children with Autism and irregular production of melatonin that is a natural hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythm.
Epilepsy is frequently co-morbid with ASD, which is why seizures can impact sleeping routines on a daily basis, in some serious cases. Another common problem may include diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux.
People with ASD can struggle with daily activities and interactions a lot more often than people without the set disorder. More specifically, the lack of sleep can significantly affect a person with Autism and heighten the feelings of anxiety and distress, which they may be experiencing frequently. That can easily lead to problems in the workplace, in school, or even in social interaction. Having the condition with continued issues with sleeping can impact someone’s outlook on life.
If someone with a spectrum disorder has regular sleep problems, the possibility of them having is a sleep disorder is high. Having insomnia means that there is a defined issue considering sleep and reaming asleep. Another condition that can occur when it comes down to people with ASD is parasomnia which comes with night terrors, frequent nightmares, and sometimes bedwetting among kids with Autism. Children often can’t express their fears and discomforts upon waking up due to ASD. For that specific reason, parasomnia needs to be addressed and carefully treated.
Help for ASD-related Sleep Problems
Let’s take a look at the most common ways to help with sleep. You should consult your physician as some might require treatment. If after professional assessment the presence of a sleep disorder is still present, the next step will be treated.
The three most common therapeutic approaches that are recommended for improving sleep are:
- light therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- sleep training.
In this part of the article, we will talk about types of treatment and recommended interventions. Studies indicate these can increase the parents’ “sense of competence and control,” and that will make it easier to cope with the stress of raising a child with ASD which will mean better sleep for the parent as well.
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is an option that can help children sleep better. Usually, this type of treatment is conducted by using a light-transmitting box, which is often kept near the bed of the person with ASD. The lightboxes are different from regular lamps because they are designed to mimic the 10,000-lux of natural sunlight without UV rays. If your child sits in front of the box for 15 to 30 minutes each day (they can do it either early in the morning or afternoon) this therapy will help them with the boost of melatonin production and create an ambiance in which the children feel more alert throughout the day.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has been proven to be quite effective when it comes down to sleep disorders for children with ASD. This type of treatment is designed to improve sleep hygiene and help patients by educating them while enhancing their nightly habits.
If your child has ASD, you should consult with a therapist about your kid’s current sleep behaviors as well as sharing your opinion about the surroundings and the sleep environment. Here are some of the things which a treatment plan can include:
Having a strict sleeping schedule will improve the overall sleep of a child with ASD. It would be best if you did that according to the amount of healthy sleep for your child’s age which for example is 12 hours for kids from the age of 3 to 4. If your children understand that they can only stay in bed during the set time, they will exclusively associate the bed with sleep, which is what will entrain them to the sleep schedule.
What this focuses on is further developing the association between bed and sleep. Stimulus control eliminates distracting visual cues or activities. However, the best way to do so is to keep your child away from the bed except during times in which they have to go to sleep, take a nap or remove an item from it.
Relaxation training usually includes deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization exercises to achieve a quiet mind at night. All of those can be hard and challenging for a child with ASD, which is why a consultation with a therapist is need so that the parents may better understand and practice what they are doing.
The Journal of Pediatric Neuroscience published a study that notes that children with Autism can benefit a lot from establishing a consistent bedtime schedule. Here are the things the health plan might consist of:
- Putting on your pajamas
- Brushing your teeth
- Using the toilet
- Washing your hands
- Getting into bed
- Reading a book (or listening to one)
- Shutting off the lights
Additional behavioral interventions
There are additional behavioral interventions that might help a child with ASD to improve their sleep. The Autism Treatment Network has published a “Sleep Tool Kit” that includes the following:
Creating a checklist with visual objects and aids such as pictures can help your child grasp the concepts easier than usual. They will remember and stick to it with more ease.
Keep bedtime routine
Keeping the same bedtime routine is essential. You should take into consideration that the list shouldn’t be extensive and can’t last for over 30 minutes so that your child doesn’t get overwhelmed with too many commitments.
A great idea is to have stimulating activities like television and video games come first. However, before bed, the activities should be relaxing and calming like reading a book.
For your child to get used to a schedule at first, you should physically guide them to it and verbally explain that they have to check everything on the list. Explain how they can cross off things from the checklist on their own.
Whenever your child follows the schedule correctly, you should provide them with positive reinforcement.
Changes in the routine
Sometimes there might be a needed change to the checklist, and if that happens, your children must know that in advance. This will help them prepare for the disruption and give them time to reflect on said changes.
Notable Blogs That Focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder:
As you may already know, there are many blogs dedicated to people with ASD. However, some are way more informative and correct than others. Here are the options that have earned their spots in numerous lists:
- “Autistic Hoya is a blog by someone who has ASD themselves.
- “The Invisible Strings is a blog by M. Kelter, who shares stories about autism and how it has shaped his life and social experiences.
- “A diary of a Mom” is told by a mother that has an adolescent daughter with ASD.
- “Rhema’s Hope is a blog that shows the journey of a previously nonverbal girl with ASD who also has a seizure condition. –
- “Four Plus an Angel is the blog of a mother of four children with the oldest one being autistic. Her experience is very informative because she has also worked in an autism center.
- “The Autism Daddy shares the experience of a father who is raising a nonverbal son with ASD.
- “The Autism Dad is a blog told from the point of view of a father that has three sons with ASD.
- “Squidalicious is written by a mother with a teenage son with ASD.
Best Forums That Focus on ASD
Forums can be incredibly useful for everyone that needs help and information regarding ASD. Here are the best forums we can find:
“The AutismWeb is a forum that connects over thousands of members with specific sections for recipes for the latest research studies, non-medical treatments for autism, special diets, and book reviews.
“ASPIESCentral is a forum for individuals with ASD and Asperger’s syndrome, which can also create their own blogs.
“The Autism subreddit is a platform with a lot of information that has over 18,000 members.
“Wrong Planet is an option that connects parents and adults with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and ADHD neurological disorders so that they can lean on each other for support.
“Forum for Autism is a place where you can find useful information and ask professionals for advice.
“National Autistic Society is a forum where you will everyday tips as well as more serious issues, medical care, and anything relating to your health and wellbeing.
Last but not least, the #autism hashtag is highly active on Twitter.
Some Of The Best Books On Sleep Issues With ASD
Every book on this list is available in both print and Kindle options. These books cover sleep issues for children and adults with ASD very extensively:
- “Solving Sleep Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Frazzled Families by Terry Katz and Beth Ann Malow is a book based on the researchers’ long study of sleep in children with Autism. In this edition, you can find tips and advice regarding the resolving of their child’s sleep problems as well as a lot of information about parental coaching for kids with ASD
- “Autistic Logistics” by Kate Wilde showcases the variety of behaviors parents of children with ASD often face, such as tantrums, bedtime hyperactivity, and bedwetting. The author offers helpful solutions and tips.
- “Sleep Well on the Autism Spectrum“by Kenneth Aitken is a book that reviews explicitly the underlying factors that often cause the sleep problems associated with ASD—covering helpful tips, behaviors, and other treatment options.
- “Sleep Better! A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs“by V. Mark Durand is a book with research-backed exercises, strategies, and behaviors for parents to use on children with ASD to help them sleep better. What makes this option different is the fact that it comes with a sleep diary and a behavior log.
Organizations You Can Turn To For Help
Here are the biggest and best advocacy organizations that provide professionals, resources, and most importantly, a sense of community that helps people with ASD:
These are the most notable US-based organizations you can turn to:
- The Autism Society – The Autism Society is a national non-profit organization delivering information, advocacy and support to the autism community.
- American Autism Association – The American Autism Association is a not for profit organization dedicated to helping families and individuals affected by autism while increasing awareness of the varied difficulties individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder face.
- The Art of Autism is a collaborative non-profit based in California that empowers autistic people and their families through the Arts which includes visual arts, music, blogging, poetry, dance, and other art forms.
- Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) – The Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) helps people with Asperger’s and similar autism spectrum and neurodiverse profiles build meaningful, connected lives.
- Deal with Autism publishes “AutisMag”, which is the leading autism magazine with 22,000 subscribers, that and offers online diagnostic tests for all age categories, a forum, and other resources on its website that create an incredible community throughout the world.
- The Arc Autism NowThe nation’s source for resources and information on community-based solutions for individuals with autism, other developmental disabilities, and their families. A national initiative of The Arc.
- “The Autism Research Institute” is an organization that funds research, shares the results on its website, and provides educational and coaching resources for caregivers and health professionals for those with ASD.
- “The Interactive Autism Network” funds and researches on findings, understanding, and treating the Autism Spectrum disorder.
- “Sesame Street and Autism”is an organization aimed at communities with children ages 2 – 5, to overcome common challenges and simplify everyday activities.
- “The OAR” is an organization, which uses science to address the educational, social, and treatment concerns of parents, self-advocates, autism professionals, and caregivers.
- Autism Science Foundation – it provides funding directly to scientists conducting cutting-edge autism research to develop better treatments.
More US organizations that might be able to help:
- Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
- Center for Autism & Related disorders
- African American Autism Support
- Madison House Autism Foundation
- Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation
- National African American Autism Community Network
- National Autism Association
- Research Autism
- US Autism Association
- Autism Highway
- Autism Speaks
- Disability Scoop
- Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy
- Autism Genetic Resource Exchange
- Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR)
- The Center on Technology and Disability
- Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA)
- IRIS Center
- National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders
- The U.S. Department of Education
Canadian ASD Groups and Organizations
Geneva Centre for Autism
Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network
Autism Awareness Centre
Autism Speaks Canada
Autism Community Training
Autism Resource Centre
Autism Society Canada
Autism Canada Foundation
Federation Quebecoise de l’Autisme (FQA)
Autism Society of PEI
Autism Nova Scotia
Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
Autism Society of BC
Autism Society Alberta
Autism Calgary Association
Autism Society of Edmonton
Saskatchewan Families for Effective Autism Treatment
Autism Society Manitoba
National Autistic Society
Child Autism UK
Ambitious about Autism
You can find the most local organization by searching this directory, but here are some notable names:
North East Autism Society
Kent Autistic Trust
Cheshire Autism Practical Support (ChAPS)
Autism West Midlands
Autism East Midlands
Wargrave House School
General Sleep Products That Might Help Children and Adults
Nowadays, the market offers many products that are designed to help individuals with developmental and sensory disabilities fall asleep easier. Here are the most popular options:
White noise machines
White noise machines can help calm children and adults with ASD using white noise sound, brown noise, and nature sounds. Today you can even download an app on your smartphone and use it in the same way. If there are any noises in the house that the kids might be sensitive to a white noise machine may prevent them from hearing it and help with their anxiety just as much.
Children and adults with ASD who snore may find great relief from anti-snoring devices since they are fitted by a professional so that the person’s lower jaw moves forward and frees up airways during sleep. There are other anti-snoring options such as pillows and nasal plugs that are not as intense. If you have sleep apnea, you should take a look at more extreme options like continuous positive air pressure machines that fit an oxygen mask over the face during sleep. However, no matter the device you choose, make sure to consult our pediatrician to ensure yourself in making the correct option for your children’s needs or a doctor if the patient is an adult.
Therapy interventions are often useful, but not all people will respond as well to them, which is where you may consider dietary supplements as an option that is suitable for children with ASD. You shouldn’t give any supplements to your children before consulting a physician, here are a few options to consider:
Melatonin is a supplement that has shown to help children with Autism fall asleep almost 30 minutes faster and sleep for longer. Children with ASD often experience circadian rhythm disruption, which can lead to low levels of melatonin. This supplement carries a low dependency risk and few adverse side effects, though diarrhea, nausea, and dizziness. Since this is a supplement, you should consult your doctor before giving your children melatonin. Even low doses can be quite effective with as little as 1 to 3mgs 30 minutes before bedtime.
Other natural supplements can help induce sleepiness and improve sleep maintenance in people with Autism. The most popular options are kava, iron, valerian root, and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTTP). Another alternative is multivitamins because they don’t carry any dependency risk and adverse side effects are minimal.
Waterproof mattresses & bedding
Children with ASD who regularly wet the bed will benefit significantly from waterproof mattresses and bedding. They are usually made from polyurethane and other materials that are easy to clean and won’t develop an unpleasant smell or stain from repeated incontinence.
These can work for both adults and children, but children use of weighted blankets need to be supervised and approached carefully.
If your child has uncomfortable sensations from restless leg syndrome, a weighted blanket will soothe them greatly. When you are choosing a blanket, it should roughly weigh 10% of your body weight. Children and adults with ASD will find a weighted blanket as a comforting, cocoon-like place even if they don’t have RLS. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician about it to ensure you are choosing the safest and most comfortable weighted blanket for children, teenager, or even adult.
Bed rails & floor pads
Bed rails restrict falls from individuals with ASD who shift a lot during sleep because of rhythmic movement disorder, night terrors, or epilepsy. The bed rail pads will provide an appropriate surface if a child should come into contact with the rails during sleep. Last but not least, the floor pads around the sides of the bed will further protect your children against a fall.
Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder – How To Sleep Better?
Firstly you have to remember that even though this guide is thorough and well-researched, it can’t be replaced for professional help and advice. With that said, you should always consult your physician or doctor to receive a qualified answer to the concerns you have regarding medical conditions and treatments.
In general children with ASD who get a better night’s sleep usually have fewer behavioral problems, and social interactions are easier for them.
If your child frequently wakes during the night, wakes up early, or has problems with falling asleep, there is a possibility of a sleeping disorder or issue. What you have to do is monitor your kid during the night for unusual movements, snoring, or breathing problems.
After doing so, you should inform your pediatrician or a specialist for further help and instructions. Keep in mind that children tend to need more sleep than adults. The case is no different for kids with Autism.
Hour recommendations are depending on age, and they are the following:
- 1 to 3 years: 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years: 12 hours
- 5 to 12 years: 10 hours
- 12 to 18 years: 9 hours
- Adults: 7 to 8 hours
As a parent, your children are the most important thing in your life, which means that if your child is sleeping better, so will you as their caregiver. Taking care of children with ASD usually means less sleep for the caregivers due to the emotional stress of raising a child or interruptions during the night from their child.
Parents to kids with Autism tend to have more sleep problems than the average adult, and their full sleep cycle is overall shorter. Here are some tips with which you can resolve or at least alleviate sleep problems for kids with ASD:
If your child has ASD, you have to think about the home environment thoroughly you can set to prevent restful sleep. Often, sensory issues in a bedroom can make it difficult for a child with Autism to fall asleep, which is why it has to be properly controlled.
Children with ASD can be more sensitive to their surroundings compared to other kids. Avoid any stimulating electronics and limit television time before bed and choose quiet and relaxing activities. Here are some factors that you might want to take into consideration:
Stagnant air can be uncomfortable for kids with Autism, which is why you should ensure that your children’s bedroom has ample airflow. Use a fan to keep the air moving if the airflow isn’t natural.
Temperature is an essential aspect for your child’s comfort in a bedroom, and that’s why keeping the temperature cool is important. A child with ASD will struggle to fall asleep and stay that way if the temperature is too high. If you’re worried about it being cooler than you want, add another blanket but try to lower the thermostat.
Another vital factor is allergens, which is why you have to check the room for them. Mould, dust, and mildew can hide in many objects, even a mattress. Sometimes changing the bedroom’s color can help and encourage healthier sleep. Some colors work better than others, so try to avoid brown, purple, or red since they can hinder sleep and pick colors, like blue or grey.
Noise is something that can amplify the sensitivity of a child with ASD. Your best option is to keep the household as quiet as possible when it’s time for bed. However, if that’s not possible at least try to reduce it. Be considerate of sounds that may come from outside as well.
Since autistic kids can be quite sensitive to sound, adding carpeting to hardwood flooring is something that you should think about. Particularly during your child’s bedtime, it will reduce the sound of footsteps in your home.
Oil squeaky hinges
If you’re looking for a simple, yet effective way to reduce ambient noise, oiling squeaky hinges is an excellent idea. This way, your kid will have an easier time sleeping.
The best way to block outdoor noises is by sealing your windows and if you can afford it, upgrading to sound-reducing windows can help even more.
Sometimes your child’s bedroom might have significant outdoor noises, which is where added insulation comes in. Having an added layer of insulation between the room and the outdoors can be quite beneficial to your children’s sleep.
Reduce technology usage before bed
Reducing the usage of technology at bedtime in other areas of the home can be beneficial. A sound-sensitive child will have problems with falling asleep to a working TV in the living room. By lowering the use of technology, you are encouraging your child to go to sleep in a relaxing manner.
Dim the lighting
Even though every single person is different, a cool, dark, and quiet environment usually works best for most children with ASD. Controlling the light in your child’s bedroom means being able to avoid overstimulation at bedtime.
One of the most accessible options to control the light in your children’s bedroom is to invest in blackout curtains. The human body responds to darkness at sleep time, which is the way the blackout curtains are an excellent option to create a calming environment.
Reduce exposure to blue spectrum light
The blue spectrum light, just like the light from most technology devices might over energize a child with ASD before bed and often suppresses melatonin production. To reduce this effect, you should avoid electronics one hour before bed.
However, many children with Autism use electronics as a self-soothing element. In this instance, you may not be able to reduce the exposure to blue light as much so investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses or some sort of a filter for the screen of the electronic device. This way, your child will be able to use the set technology before bedtime.
Use a red-hued bulb
Most children need a nightlight regardless of their neurological differences. That’s where the red-hued lights come in handy because they don’t impact circadian rhythms.
Block doorway light
Sometimes the light coming through the doorway inside your children’s bedroom can create sleep disturbances. If that is a problem, you can solve it by using a towel for the entrance to block the incoming light.
Scent and Odor Control
Be considerate of smells in the bedroom
If your child has sensory concerns, odors might be very stimulating, and as a parent, recognizing that is important. Kids with ASD often have a heightened sense of smell, and if they can smell something, the possibility of them falling asleep is lower, and it can be a battle.
Remove items with a strong odor
Even if you think a smell is pleasant to you or unnoticeable, this doesn’t mean it will be the same for a child with ASD. Some children may find it hard to tolerate some smells, which is why opting for volatile organic compounds can solve most of these problems.
As a part of a child’s bedtime routine, you can consider diffusing aromatherapy oils to calm them down before sleep. However, you shouldn’t use overpowering essential oils since children with ASD are unique. Consider oils like sandalwood, lavender, and more natural smells.
Be considerate of textures in the bed
Recognizing the texture factor is essential when it comes down to children with Autism at night time. A child with ASD might struggle to fall asleep from the mattress they are laying on, the sheets you are using, or the clothes that they are wearing.
Clothing that is restrictive or too rough can make it difficult for someone with Autism to sleep. That’s why buying loose, soft clothes without tags will make it easier for your child. Pajamas with tags can be quite irritating for those with sensory concerns in general.
Mattress & blanket fabrics
First, let’s talk about the mattress since your child won’t be able to sleep comfortably if it is too saggy or if they can feel the springs. Having a child with sensory concerns can be difficult at times, which is why sleeping with a weighted blanket can increase serotonin production and that it will calm down their body. Keep in mind that depending on the child’s weight, the blanket will differ.
Routine and sleep hygiene
Having a bedtime routine can help your child fall asleep faster. According to a study by Vanderbilt University repeating the same activities in the same order every night before bed will be very beneficial to children with ASD. Often kids with spectrum disorders can show strong favoritism towards objects, and you can use that and incorporate it in the bedtime routine by using the same pajamas and toys.
Using something consistently as a clock, for example, that will signal that’s it’s time for bed, the child will be prepared in advance and know that it’s coming up since children with ASD are highly sensitive relaxing activities before bed can be essential. There are things you can do to make the bedtime process more comfortable as well as there are other things you should avoid when preparing for bed. A good sleep environment is crucial for a kid with Autism or another sensory need, which is why next you will see the “do’s” and the “don’ts” on a bedtime routine and sleep hygiene.
The Do’s of routine and sleep hygiene
- Do establish a routineCreating a nighttime routine that’s short and efficient will help your child sleep well. Avoid dragging the process and keep it as straightforward as possible. If you start the schedule 30 minutes before bed, this can be used as a signal for your child to encourage and prepare them for bed. The most important part about the process is to establish it and stick to routines and rituals you and your child have created. You may include baths, changing into pajamas, tooth brushing, and tucking in to help your kid establish healthy sleep habits.
- Do Use visuals
Letting your kid know in advance that it’s time for bed will prepare and help them better understand it. Using a visual schedule with pictures and objects will be beneficial to the routine. You can involve your child by creating a checklist as well so that they can do it step by step and navigate the process successfully.
- Do soothe your child
Choosing activities that calm down your child without stimulating them too much is essential. You can include those activities in the bedtime routine and use them primarily for bedtime so that your children associate them with sleeping. An excellent example of soothing options are light massages and back rubs.
- Do set wake-up times
Just like going to bed at the same time, waking up in the morning should be a part of the child’s routine. This way, your kid won’t be tired and the day will start more relaxing.
The Don’ts of routine and sleep hygiene
- Don’t have rowdy activities
Avoiding rowdy activities at night is crucial. Two hours before bed, you should try more calming activities to help your child wind down and prepare for bed. If having a bath is something that can be a battle, choose another time to do it and try to relax your child as much as possible.
- Don’t use electronics at night
Even though most parents might be tempted by giving their child a tablet or letting them watch TV to wind-down time, electronics must be limited before bed. This way, you encourage proper melatonin production and provide a comfortable ambiance for sleeping.
- Don’t disrupt the nighttime routine
Having the proper rest for a child with ASD is important, which is why disrupting their routine should be avoided. Sometimes you may not be able to avoid certain situations, but limiting them to a minimum will help.
- Don’t surprise your child at night
Surprises before bed aren’t a great idea, especially for kids with spectrum disorders, since they need time to process new information. Avoiding excitement and changes in the hours leading up to bedtime will prevent restless sleep and hard ache for falling asleep in general.
- Don’t do homework at night
Often doing homework can be found stimulating and distressing for autistic kids, which is you should aim to be done by early evening, so they have time to process before bedtime.
Nutrition and exercise
When we talk about children with ASD, it’s important to understand that every aspect is matters. What they eat is often a critical part of a good bedtime routine. Children on the autism spectrum are highly particular about what they want to eat, and this can be found difficult for many parents. However, it would be best if you kept in mind that your child can have a sensitive stomach which can upset their sleep.
It’s not only about nutrition because providing exercises regularly will let your kid sleep better at night. You should consult a professional and keep your child’s unique needs in mind. Here are some tips to reduce food-based sleep problems:
- Focus on a caffeine-free diet
Children with Autism have heightened sensitivities, and that’s why you should altogether avoid all kinds of caffeine before bed. In addition to the obvious options, try and avoid caffeine in tea, energy drinks, chocolate, and even coffee and cola-flavored candies and foods.
- Reduce sugar intake
Reducing the amount of sugar your child consumes throughout the day will prevent hardships when bedtime comes. Avoid letting your kid have a sugar-heavy diet since this will make it difficult for them to fall asleep at the end of the day.
- Avoid acidic foods
Heartburn can be quite painful, especially for a child with ASD. The ingredients that make acid reflux worse are garlic, onion, spices, tomato products, and citrus fruits to name a few. Here are a few ideas on how to reduce the chance of it happening at night.
- Avoid gas-inducing foods
Foods can cause gas, and reducing specific foods before bed will help with tummy complaints. The foods that can be a concern are whole grains, fatty foods, lentils, cabbage, peas, beans carbonated drinks, cauliflower, and more.
- Omega-3 fats
Studies have shown that kids with ASD autism often have lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing these levels can vastly improve your child’s sleep during the night as Omega3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for our bodies. You can look into Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon and other cold-water fish, as well as nuts, plant oils, and others.
- Try to reduce eating before bed
Eating is considered a highly stimulating experience for children’s senses which is why they should avoid being fed before bed to ensure they aren’t overstimulated. Snacks can be beneficial, however, but they can’t be too close to bedtime. If you are choosing a snack for your child, it is better to include protein and complex carbs, while avoiding sugar altogether if you can.
Tips on teaching children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to fall sleep alone
First, you have to make sure that you’ve created a comfortable environment for your child. Kids with ASD can have a more challenging time falling asleep without their parents and on their own. First, you should try to associate the child’s bedroom with sleep-only activities if possible. No internet, no playtime – just sleeping, at least in the initial stages.
After you establish the bedroom as the “go-to sleeping room”, here comes the next step – teaching your child to fall asleep without you in it. There are a few schools o thought on how to achieve that in the most painless way possible. Some recommend going cold-turkey, other suggest more gradual steps, which we agree with completely. Cold turkey can be stressful for both of you so we think that gradual steps are the best way to achieve the result
Here are some recommended steps you can use until your child falls asleep on their own. These should be gradual and over the course of a few days or even weeks – it might take some time so patience is required.
- Start by lying in bed (optional)
If your child sleeps with you in your bed, this is the obvious initial step. Soothe your child until it falls asleep but look into gradually phasing out this step.
- Sit on a chair inside the room
Gradually start phasing out soothing your child in the bed and start pulling a close-by chair and start sitting on it. Gradually your child will get used to you soothing him sitting and will start falling asleep without you being in the bed with him. Time for the next step:
- Sit outside the room
Start moving the chair away from the bed as days go by, further and further away from the bed and close to the door. It will take some patience and getting used to, but eventually, your child will get used to you being in the room, but further away from the bed.
- Sit outside the room (out of sight, but leave the door open)
Once you get the chair close to the door, now it’s time to move it outside the room, but still keeping the door open. Gradual steps are best. Once your child is used to you not being present, but still right outside the room if he needs you, time to move to the next step:
- Sit outside (but you can close the door)
This is the most crucial step – once complete you can start to gradually phase out being outside the room. It will take some getting used to, but once you start closing the door without issues, the job is done. It might take a few days for the child to get used to the new routine, but once done the child can sleep on its own without too much trouble falling asleep. There might be occasional tantrums but given enough time and patience they should eventually phase out.
Sleeping might be a significant issue for children on the autism spectrum and their parents. Restful sleep can lead to a peaceful and relaxing home environment, just like sleep deprivation can disrupt family dynamics and create great challenges. You can guide your child to a healthy, restful sleep that will benefit your family for years to come.
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