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Autism and Sleep: A Comprehensive Guide to Better Sleep

Sleeping disorders are one of the main problems for those with autism. This is a fairly typical problem that both children and people with autism experience, and if it is resolved, it will likely improve many different aspects of their lives.

Everyone is aware of how easily irritable we may become when we don't get enough sleep. Consider how it may be affecting your autistic child's behavior every single day if they have difficulties sleeping all the time.

In light of this, we set out to provide a definitive guide on how to improve your autistic child's sleep. We discuss the benefits of sleep for your special child, sleep aids that may be useful, and how to create a successful routine.

If your child is not getting the recommended amount of sleep, the effects can compound, and sleep deprivation can result.

The National Sleep Foundation advises preschoolers to get between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, school-age kids between 10 and 11, and teenagers between 8 and 10 hours. Adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night because the amount of time needed to fall asleep reduces with age.

Side effects of sleep deprivation can include:

  • Irritability, mood changes

  • Daytime drowsiness

  • Behavioral issues: hyperactivity, aggression, inattentiveness

  • Difficulties with organization, planning, judgment

  • Difficulties with new learning & retention of learned skills (memory)

  • Decreased safety awareness

Common Sleeping Disorders

Only 35% of American adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation, consider their night's sleep to be "excellent." When sleep problems persist over an extended length of time, a more scientifically confirmed sleep disorder may be to fault.

Although falling asleep and staying asleep are the most frequently reported sleep concerns, there are several ways to describe a sleep issue:

  • Insomnias: having trouble getting asleep or staying asleep

  • Hypersomnia: Oversleeping

  • Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders: apnea, snoring, groaning

  • Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Cycle Disorders

  • Parasomnia - excessive movement during sleep cycles

Unfortunately, these sleep issues affect children with autism more frequently and are made worse by some of the stressors that are usually connected to an autistic spectrum disorder.

10 Tips to Help with Sleep

It will take some trial and error to find the best set of instruments, tactics, and routines.

Be sure to keep a sleep log or sleep journal as you experiment with sleep aids and alter routines and circumstances. Your child's behavior may vary dramatically in response to subtle changes, so record your observations in writing.

Think about recording dietary changes, bedtime modifications, frequency of wake-ups, wake-up timings, and actions taken to finish the nighttime routine.

With time, even tiny adjustments can make a significant difference, and without a written diary, it's all too simple to lose track of your progress.


Some medical professionals and parents are mixing over-the-counter melatonin with behavioral treatments for sleep disorders. The hormone melatonin, which the pineal gland normally produces during the sleep cycle, has been used as a supplement to treat sleep disorders in children with ADHD and autism.

The effects of melatonin in the treatment of insomnia in children with autism were investigated in a study published in the Journal of Child Neurology in 2008, and it was discovered that 60% of parents reported improved sleep. According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, long-term melatonin therapy was generally beneficial and there were no safety issues with carrying on with the therapy.


Your youngster can start to calm down by developing a regular bedtime and bedtime routine. For kids of all ages, but especially for those with autism, this practice is crucial.

While providing pictures of the pattern improves regularity and understanding, a warm (not hot) aromatherapy bath, brief tale, and lotion massage can help deliver relaxing sensory input.


The amount of sugar in popular kid's snacks might shock you! When it comes to bedtime, adults are aware to avoid caffeine and sugar but don't forget to think about how your child's diet may affect their ability to go to sleep. Consider the nutrients that are missing from your child's diet as well. Tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, and naturally occurring melatonin are all possible additives to your child's dinnertime meal that could be beneficial!


Our sleep-wake cycle is influenced by environmental and natural lighting, and it's not always a good thing! One's degree of arousal is more sensitive to certain types of lighting than others.

For instance, fluorescent lighting and daylight are stimulating. Your child's circadian rhythm can be controlled by limiting screen time two hours before bedtime and avoiding brightly lit areas.

Red-hued lights have been shown to not interfere with circadian rhythms, so if a nightlight is required, think about switching out the standard bulb for one of these colors.


Everything, even the noises in between, the wall colors, window coverings, and noises. When it's time to unwind, your child should have a sensory-deprivation bedroom that is a peaceful refuge.

The superfluous hallway or outside noises that can prevent your child from falling or staying asleep can be muted with the use of a white noise machine.

The best solutions to stop excessive light from sneaking through the window and waking up your child earlier than necessary are black-out curtains or roller blinds.

Consider repainting in a darker shade that won't reflect the light as much because darker walls promote greater sleep than lighter ones.


All of these sensory experiences aid in control, and the hormones that are released also affect sleep. In order to promote your child's sleep habits, encourage sensory activity throughout the day, but be careful to discontinue any alerting activities one hour before bedtime.


To encourage quiet and relaxation before bed, lavender, vanilla, and chamomile can be used to sleep sprays, lotions, and essential oil baths. If your child likes the scent of the essential oils, using a diffuser is a terrific method to help disseminate them.


The comforters, pillows, and sheets should all have soft, cozy textures that appeal to all senses.

Oversized pillows or plush animals may provide more sensory stimulation for squeezing, cuddling, and burrowing, according to some parents.

Think about using a thick duvet or down comforter or a weighted blanket that is specially made.


If your child struggles to recognize the proper "wake-up" time or is prone to oversleeping, try adding a sleep-smart alarm clock that is tailored to meet their needs.

The OK to Wake Alarm Clock is useful for teaching kids to stay in bed till a respectable time when they wake up early. When it's time to get up, this clock lights green (you set the time).

Kids who have problems waking up will benefit from the Wake-Up Light. When it's time to wake up, this alarm clock imitates a natural lightning strike. It may also function as a nightlight in any shade of color, including red!


Our natural heart rhythms benefit greatly from more natural light, which can also help our nighttime sleep cycles. Plan to spend 10 minutes playing outside in the morning, at lunch, and at sunset.

Learn more about using a lightbox for light therapy. This is especially useful if you live somewhere that doesn't get a lot of sunshine all year long or throughout the winter.


Control Environmental Factors

Your child's environment has a significant role in determining when it's time to go to sleep and when it's time to get out of bed. Think about the changes in the environment that will signal to your child that it is time to go to bed: a dark room, white noise, the appropriate temperature, and regular routines that emphasize sleeping in their own bed. These improvements can make a major impact in encouraging your child to sleep in their own bed.

Give them a security object

Children have difficulties falling back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night giving them security objects like blankets or stuffed animals to help them relax and comfort them.

Start Small

If your child isn't used to going asleep on their own, you'll need to make changes gradually to assist them to get used to it. For example, if your child is used to you lying in bed with him while he falls asleep, sit on his bed instead. After that, go sit down on a chair near the bed. Continue to slide the chair away from the bed until you reach the door.

Create Bedtime Passes & Rewards

Your kid might want some encouragement to go to bed in their own room. Create "bedtime passes" that your child can use when they need an extra visit from you to encourage this and reduce their fear. Assure your child that each night they will receive a new pass and that if they can make it through the night without using the pass, they will receive a reward, such as a special activity.

Key Takeaways

When a child is on the autism spectrum, sleep is a complex issue that doesn't always have a straightforward, one-size-fits-all solution. Fortunately, you may build your own set of sleep tools with the aid of a variety of resources and solutions.

Though you might need to try a few before you find the perfect one, finding the ideal sleep solution could be similar to choosing a new mattress. Please share any effective sleep techniques you have.


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