Helping Your Child with Autism Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Children who place on the autism spectrum can struggle with several aspects of life. Most commonly, people think of how loud, active environments can trigger a negative response in autistic children thanks to the sensory overload it can lead to. However, this is only part of autism spectrum disorder. 

Another common problem that can occur for children placing on the autism spectrum is problems with their sleep schedule. This can include issues with winding down and falling asleep at night and rousing in the morning. Luckily, there are measures that you can take to help your child get the sleep that they need at night so that they are ready for the upcoming day.

It’s important to remember that all autistic children are different. This means that some of these tips might work for your child while others might not.

Avoid Stimulants Before Bed

Just like with anyone who has problems with insomnia or settling before bed, you will want to avoid making it worse by adding any sort of stimulant into the equation. The most common examples of stimulants you will want to avoid are caffeine and sugar. So, you won’t want to give your child soda or sugary snacks before bed.

Try to Calm Down Action Before Bed

Autistic children – and children in general – often have trouble sleeping because they aren’t calm when they lay down for bed. This is because many autistic children have an excess amount of energy. So, when it comes time for bed, it’s extremely difficult to just turn that energy off and go to sleep.

To help gradually calm this energy down, you should set in place rules that some activities are prohibited before an hour before bed. For example, you should limit roughhousing – tickling, wrestling, etc. In addition, it is best to limit use of technology for an hour or so before bed. After all, the blue light from a TV or computer can be rather stimulating to anyone and won’t help your child relax and fall asleep.

Establish a Routine

One theory behind why autistic children have so much trouble sleeping is that they have trouble reading the social cues that tell them it’s time for bed. For example, if their siblings start to yawn or change into their pyjamas, they won’t always understand that this means it’s time for bed.

However, by having a routine in place, it will help your child understand when it’s time for bed and it can even help them wind down. In fact, a routine can help many autistic children handle their day-to-day life, not just bedtime.

What the routine includes is up to you. Most parents and children create a routine that includes activities such as the child brushing their teeth, taking time to relax, and eventually falling asleep. While you can customize the routine to fit your needs, remember it is a routine. That means you should try to keep it constant in what you do and when you do it each night for it to be effective.

It should be noted that while it is tempting to give your children a few extra hours rest or let them stay up late on the weekends, it will only serve to disrupt their routine. As such, you should avoid the temptation to do so.

Make the Room Comfortable

This may seem like common sense but one of the best ways to help an autistic child fall asleep is to make their room as comfortable as possible. This includes all of the common ideas that you would want in your room – keep it a comfortable temperature, have soft pillows, and the like.

For autistic children, though, it can prove beneficial to take a few extra steps to account for sensory distractions. You can cut down on extra noise by installing thick carpeting and making sure the hinges on the door doesn’t squeak. A set of thick currents can block lights out from outside as well. A weighted blanket can be a comforting touch as well.

Help Your Child Relax

As part of your child’s routine, there are a few different things you can do to help your child relax at the end of the day. One example is to massage your child’s back or shoulders as they fall asleep. You could also read them a story to help them fall asleep.

On the other hand, though, you don’t want your child to depend on you to fall asleep either. Even if they are very young and you are there every night when they fall asleep, you are setting a precedent for later in life. In addition, if your child depends on you to fall asleep, they will also have trouble falling back asleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.

One way that you can help your child relax without being directly involved is with music. For this purpose, you will want music that is relaxing, predictable, and without lyrics or syncopation. Many people find that calming, classical music is the best choice.

Exercise During the Day

For many autistic children, moving around and expressing physical energy is a part of their everyday routine. However, as we stated earlier, every autistic child is different. So, if your child is more prone to sitting around, you might want to prompt them to exercise a bit more.

The main idea behind this is that activity during the day makes a child naturally sleepier when it comes to the day’s end. By doing this, you are reaffirming the wake/sleep cycle that makes us all active during the day and sleepy at night.

Melatonin

Finally, you could always talk to your child’s therapist or paediatrician about an appropriate dose of melatonin before bed.

Melatonin is actually a hormone that already exists in the brain. It has a couple different functions but it mainly works to regulate circadian rhythms – this means regulating your internal clock. When melatonin is released in the body at night, you naturally get tired. A melatonin supplement can be used to help regulate the sleep cycle.

This is particularly useful to autistic children because autism can cause them to have irregular melatonin pathways. So, a supplement can be implemented to help make up for the lack of melatonin in their system regulating their circadian rhythm.

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