Does your child with autism have a difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep? Here are 10 tips for helping your child with autism sleep better.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system which controls every function of the body.
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD often have issues with communicating social and motor skills, obsessive and repetitive behaviors and gastrointestinal problems. And since autism is a spectrum disorder there are different degrees of cases for each person.
For example, there are often people who are considered “mild” or high functioning autism and all the way on the other end of the spectrum there are severe cases of autism who may be completely non-verbal.
In our family, my two children and I are all on the higher end of the autism spectrum which at one point used to be called, “Asperger’s Syndrome.” However, Asperger’s Syndrome has been taken off of the list and is no longer used as a diagnosis.
- 16 Common Signs of Childhood Sensory Issues You May Be Missing
- How Being Diagnosed with Autism Changed My Life for the Better
*This page may contain affiliate links, however, I will never recommend anything that I do not believe in and use myself. You can read more about my disclosure policy here. Also, I am not a doctor or healthcare professional. All of my opinions are my own and describe my experience of the journey my family has gone through to find out my children have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Please do not consider the symptoms below as a diagnosis but a guide to talk with your doctor about.
What Causes Sleep Issues in Autism?
Some of the most common sleep issues that parents report with their children with autism are:
- Difficulty Getting to Sleep
- Poor Quality of Sleep
- Frequent Waking
- Inconsistent Sleeping Patterns
The reasons that they often have difficulty with getting to sleep and staying asleep is due to some of their behaviors that come along with autism, including:
- obsessive rituals
- obsessive thoughts
And as we all know if you are not getting enough sleep you will not be in the best mood or ability to function properly during your day. For children that are on the autism spectrum, it is even more difficult to function throughout the day without having a proper night’s rest.
Autism Bedtime Meltdowns
Another obstacle that parents with children on the autism spectrum face are autism meltdowns at bedtime.
Children with autism often experience meltdowns when they are overstimulated, are not able to complete certain rituals, or are just not able to understand why they are not in control of their environment.
How Can I Get My Child With Autism To Sleep?
1. Establish a Bedtime Routine
The very first step to getting your child with autism to go to sleep is to create a proper bedtime routine – and stick to it, like glue. The reason it is so important for you to stick to this routine is that your child needs consistency and will learn to expect exactly what is supposed to happen when the bedtime routine begins.
This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of your child acting negatively when you start to initiate the bedtime routine.
Of course, your child’s bedtime routine can be whatever you decide but here are some basic bedtime tasks that work for many families.
- Getting Pajamas on
- Brushing Teeth
- Saying Nighttime Prayers
- Hugs and Kisses
RELATED POST – 7 Tips for Creating the Perfect Bedtime Routine
2. Avoid Hyperactivity
The last thing you want to do just before bedtime is get your kids all hyped up and running around. That may work for other children, but for kids on the autism spectrum, it’s like adding gas to the fire rather than calming it until it blows out.
So try to get your kids to avoid roughhousing, running, and just being super active before bedtime.
3. Quiet Activities
Now just because it is recommended for your kids to calm down, doesn’t mean that they can’t do anything. Playing quietly with blocks, reading a book, or coloring is great quiet activities that allow your kids to start relaxing just before putting them to bed.
4. Eliminate Electronics Before Bed
In our world one of the hardest things to do as a parent is to minimize the electronic use and screen time for our kids. I admit we as adults use our phones way more than we should and it contributes to us not being able to actually get to sleep at times.
Its the same for your children – especially for children with autism.
Watching tv, playing video games, or spending time on tablets can be very overstimulating when it’s time to start winding down and getting ready for sleep.
5. Soothing Bath or Shower
Taking a bath and having them spend time in the water wears kids out and helps them to relax before bedtime. I try to give my kids a bath most nights during the week to help them sleep better.
One trick that I have learned to help them relax in the bathtub is by adding a few drops of Lavender Essential Oil to their bath water. The soothing smell really helps them to calm down and keeps them from getting too crazy in the bathtub.
I know for me, taking a warm shower and getting all clean before going to bed always helps me to get to sleep much faster.
RELATED POST – 7 Unbelievable Ways to Use Lavender Essential Oil with Kids
6. Weighted Blanket
Have you heard of a weighted blanket? If not you may be thinking that its something kind of strange. But let me tell you. A weighted blanket is just as it sounds – a blanket with weighted poly beads inside.
And using weighted blankets at bedtime can help children and adults with sleeping issues. We got one for my daughter and she has been sleeping so much better since. Here is my full review of her weighted blanket.
Your child may benefit from having a weighted blanket if they have any of the following:
- ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome
- ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder)
- Sleep Disorders or Insomnia
RELATED POST – Can a Weighted Blanket Truly Help My Child with Autism Sleep?
7. Diffuse or Roll on Essential Oils
Essential oils have been around since before baby Jesus was born. In fact, they are mentioned as gifts for the newborn from wise men who came to see him after his birth.
And just as back then essential oils can help with supporting our moods and also help us to feel relaxed. For example, many children benefit from having Lavender Essential Oil at bedtime to help with relaxation.
Lavender essential oil can also be diffused or rolled on to children with autism spectrum disorder to help support them just before going to bed.
8. Sound Machine
Noise is something we are all used to and many children with autism have a hard time turning their racing mind off to be able to get to sleep. That’s were having a sound machine or a white noise machine can be a huge lifesaver.
The consistent noise often lulls children to sleep before they even realize it and helps to drown out background noise to keep them asleep as well.
And if you don’t have a sound machine, you can always use a fan instead. I love using the oscillating fans because they give off the whooshing noise when they turn from side to side.
9. Bedtime Story
Every child loves to be read a sweet bedtime story before going to bed. We love to read really short bedtime stories because our children often ask several questions during the story.
But whatever you read try to make it calming and soothing to listen to.
RELATED POST – 5 Amazing Story Books That WIll Calm Your Kids For Bedtime
10. Autism Sleep Medication
Many times medication for your child is the last resort. There are just times where your child with autism despite your best efforts will still have some trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.
*Always consult your child’s pediatrician before administering any supplements or medications.
One over the counter supplement that is usually recommended to try is Melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is created in our bodies to help us get to sleep. However, for children on the autism spectrum, it may not be enough for proper sleeping patterns.
Melatonin comes in a few different forms including a caplet, a chewable, and even drops.
Many parents have seen huge success from using this hormone as a nightly supplement for their children’s sleep.