You know that your child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experiences sleep difficulties. You also know that your child’s difficulties create sleep challenges for you too. But what you may not know is how common the challenges you face are for families affected by ASD.
In a report published by psychologist Amanda Richdale, it was estimated that 44-83% of children on the 1999e autism spectrum experience sleep challenges, the most common of which are difficulty falling asleep, frequent wakings during the night, and early morning waking. Other difficulties include:
The good news is that the struggles you have getting your child to fall asleep and stay asleep are not unique to your family. In fact, the prevalence of sleep difficulties among children with autism means there has been ample opportunity for researchers to study the causes of the problem and develop effective strategies to help children and their parents get the sleep they need.
We have many sleep aids that can help your child with autism.
While these aren’t 100% effective all the time, practicing these habits may help improve your nighttime (and early morning) struggles.
Most typically developing (TD) kids can easily block out ambient noise, especially when they are tired. For kids on the spectrum, household noises like the TV, music, the dishwasher, etc. can be over-stimulating or otherwise disturbing, making it impossible for them to fall asleep or even feel tired. As much as possible, try to limit your child’s exposure to household noises once they have gone to bed.
Visual stimuli can disturb your child and make it difficult to fall asleep. Keeping their bedroom dark will help limit visual stimulation and encourage the production of melatonin, a neurohormone that promotes sleep. Switch to Easynight Blackout Blinds if there are streetlights, traffic lights, or other outdoor light sources near your child’s bedroom windows to create a snoozy environment.
Your child may not be able to tell you if they feel too cool or too warm, but sleep experts indicate that a cool bedroom promotes sound sleep. Optimal bedroom temperatures range from 18-20 degrees. If your child cannot tolerate bed clothes or covers, you will want to raise the heat a bit but no higher than around 23 degrees.
Be sure you are wearing the appropriate tog rated clothing too. If you are unsure of what a tog is, please visit our blog Demystifying the togs in Baby Sleeping Bags.
Many children with ASD find certain fabrics and clothing features to be extremely irritating. Make sure that your child’s PJs and bed linens are made of fabrics that at least do not cause discomfort and at best are soothing to your child. Be aware that seams, zippers, and buttons can also be irritating. If your child is non-verbal, you may need to do some investigative research with them using trial and error.
Work with your child to develop a soothing bedtime routine that you can stick to every night. Keep it simple, calming, and free from electronic screens. Create visual support for your child's bedtime routine. (For more information about visual tools for children with autism and examples, see The National Autistic Society.) A bedtime routine might look like this:
Create a social story explaining the importance of sleep and the cues people use to know when it’s time for sleep. Be sure to include pictures to support your story.
While a recent study suggests that weighted blankets do not increase sleep time or decrease time spent falling asleep, the deep pressure touch provided by the weighted blanket can help to soothe your child and make the bedtime routine more appealing.
If you suspect anxiety is the cause of your child’s sleep difficulties, incorporate some relaxation activities into the bedtime routine. These include:
Research has shown that children with ASD improved their sleep when given melatonin in combination with oral instructions for parents on strategies to promote sleep. Please consult your GP for further information on melatonin prescriptions.
Many parents of children with autism fall into the habit of lying down with their kids to get them to sleep. While this can be a precious time to connect with your child, it reinforces their perceived need to have you near them in order to sleep. That means you are indispensable at bedtime as well as when your child awakens in the middle of the night. And that’s not good for either of you. We have many sleep aids such as The Lulla Doll , The Sleepytot Sleep Therapy Sound Machine and the Aroma Snooze, all known to help Children with Autism and their bedtime routine.