Tips for Helping Your Child with Autism Get a Good Nights Sleep

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)often have a problems maintaining good sleep habits. Experts believe that anywhere from 40 percent to 80 percent of children with ASD have difficulty sleeping. This can be in falling asleep, staying asleep, restlessness during sleep or waking up early. For children with autism, sleep disturbances have been shown to increase aggression, depression, hyperactivity and behavioral problems. It can also lead to decreased cognitive functions and make learning more difficult.

    The following are some tips and ideas to help your child get a good night’s sleep:

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    Make sure daytime activities promote nighttime sleeping

    • Add exercise to your child’s daily routine. Regular exercise can help your child sleep better during the night. Be sure to schedule exercise early in the day, too much stimulation close to bedtime may make it more difficult for your child to fall asleep.
    • Eliminate or reduce caffeinated foods and beverages. For some, caffeine usually remains in your system for 3 to 5 hours, but for some this can be as long as 12 hours. If your child is having trouble sleeping, try eliminating all foods and beverages with caffeine to see if it helps. Remember, chocolate contains caffeine.
    • Have your child wake up at the same time each morning and, if old enough, eliminate daytime naps.
    • Pay attention to those things that tend to arouse your child, such as video games, loud or violent movies, certain television shows or certain stimulating activities. End these activities before dinner to allow your child to have several hours of calming activities before bedtime.

    Your child’s bedroom should be soothing and promote relaxation

    • Pay attention to the temperature in your child’s room. Remember, he may not respond to temperature in the same way as you. Think about what temperature he feels most comfortable with during the day and try to replicate that in his room.
    • Use sheets and blankets that are comfortable for your child. Sheets that may seem okay to you may feel scratchy to your child, keeping him awake.
    • Depending on your child’s preference, make sure the lighting in the room promotes sleep. He may want a nightlight or may prefer the room completely dark. There may be a streetlight streaming in through the window that could be eliminated with blinds or he may need some type of light to keep fears at bay. Find out what works best for your child.
    • Eliminate or reduce noises. While you may not be able to stop all household noises, using a white noise machine, placing a fan in your child’s room or using ear plugs may help him block out the external noises, reduce stimulation and help him sleep better.
    • Pay attention to the colors and decor of the room. Your child’s room should promote relaxation and calmness. Look around to see if changing the environment may help him sleep better.

    Create a bedtime routine

    • Choose a bedtime that is reasonable and that you can enforce without causing disruption or hardship to you and your family. Stick with the bedtime every night.
    • Create a bedtime routine with pleasant and calming activities and, depending on your child’s abilities, write it down or use pictures to denote the steps of the routine so he knows what to expect. Bedtime routines can include bathing, getting dressed in pajamas, having a snack, reading a book, spending time cuddling and listening to music. Use activities that your child enjoys.
    • Eliminate activities that are upsetting to your child. For example, if your child becomes highly agitated or upset during bath time, consider moving baths to the morning instead of right before bedtime.

    Once you have managed to get your child into bed, you have to find ways to get him to stay there. The Autism Support Network recommends going through the bedtime routine and then, when your child is in bed, leaving the room. If he isn’t falling asleep, go back into the room, provide support, such as a touch or gesture, let him know it is bedtime and he is okay and then leaving the room again. You may need to do this over and over for the first couple of nights but your child will get the idea that once the bedtime routine is over, you are leaving and he is supposed to stay in his bed and go to sleep.

    If your child is having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, check with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any medical issues that may be causing this.


    “Establishing Positive Sleep Patterns for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Date Unknown, Marci Wheeler, Autism Support Network

    “Helping You and Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep,”  2012, Dec 26, Staff Writer, Special Medical Services

    “Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network

Published On: March 05, 2013