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How to Get Your Autistic Child to Sleep

Updated on October 24, 2013

Children with Autism frequently have sleeping problems.

My autistic daughter is seven years old. We are currently enjoying a good sleep pattern, but we have suffered from many bouts of sleepless nights over the years. I hope to share a few insights that might help you help your child sleep more. I understand that there are many kids who won't sleep, even when on strong sleep medications, and I don't have any answers for that. It breaks my heart to see families struggle with sleepless kids; everyone in the family suffers, not to mention the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, who doesn't seem to get that they are wreaking havoc with themselves and their caregivers!

To sleep, perchance to dream...
To sleep, perchance to dream...

Creating A Routine for Sleep

Soothing things to do before bed.

One of my failings is that I am a super relaxed parent. Some might describe it as tolerant, but in any case, I struggle with imposing routine and schedule on my children. I used to homeschool for the main reason that I didn't want to get up in the morning! The hardest times we've had with our daughter's sleeplessness have come during times when the family schedule is relaxed, such as during summer vacation. Not having a set bedtime and allowing our daughter to sleep in the next day usually causes problems. My first suggestion is to have a regular bedtime. It may help to show your child the clock, so that your child thinks the clock is the bad guy, not mom. A child in elementary school should be in bed by 8:30pm at the latest. Wake up time should be no later than 7:30am. If you are trying to repair a bad sleep pattern, waking your child up earlier than usual will help, but it is hard...especially if you've been sleepless for nights on end!

A bedtime routine helps inform your child that sleepy time is coming. A bath before bed usually is relaxing for children. Try using lavender in the bath which is known to promote sleepiness. Singing soothing songs and reading books about sleep will also let your child know what to expect at bedtime. Goodnight Moon is one of my daughter's favorites. Other activities you might include in your bedtime routine are a family bedtime prayer, a personal prayer for your child, a small snack like warm milk or a piece of cheese. Most kids, even if they don't have ASD, like predictability. The same pair of pajamas and the same sheets will be comforting to your child.

In addition to the bedtime routine, set the atmosphere for bedtime. Put all of the play things away. Dim the lights, turn off computers and televisions or turn down the volume on them. Encourage all of the family members to slow down their pace and lower voices. Children will take cues from those around them. You might take your child on a walk through the house, looking out the dark windows and telling her about the animals and trees going to sleep. If you have pets, bring your pets into the bedtime routine as well. Put a cover on the bird cage, fluff up the dog bed etc.

It has been our experience that children with Autism like small confined spaces. You might try creating a cubby in their bed, or covering their bed with blankets for a fort. Make sure his favorite cuddle item is there too. Keep distractions in the bedroom to a minimum. A simple night light will do, if it is needed at all. Have all of the playthings put up and out of sight. Tidy up and try lavender again as aromatherapy in his room.

When these things fail, you might try sleep supplements. However, you MUST talk to your child's doctor about such an addition to the bedtime regimen. Our doctor suggested Melatonin, an herbal remedy that promotes sleepiness. You will have to talk to your doctor about dosage; each and every child will be different. As an example, my daughter, who is statistically very small, takes a very small dosage. A girl of the same age but a little bigger, takes a very large dose. You will have to get your medical practitioner's advice; this article can't replace it. I hope these ideas end up being useful to you and your tired child. Good night.

Books about bedtime are a family favorite - Good night room, good night moon, good night cow jumping over the moon!

I like to get our books at the local discount bookstore. Here are some great titles.

Sleep Aid Ideas - We use the 5mg of melatonin when she starts showing signs of hyperactivity at 10pm

Never give your child medicines or supplements without consulting your healthcare professional! Doublecheck with your pharmacist on dosages as well, just to be on the safe side.

Melatonin 5mg Time Release - 100 - Tablet
Melatonin 5mg Time Release - 100 - Tablet

This is the brand that we use. It works best when we give it to her as soon as we can tell that she is going to take longer to fall asleep.

 
Sound Oasis Sound Therapy System
Sound Oasis Sound Therapy System

Our dd discovered on her own that the sound of the humidifier running soothed her.

 
Try white noise
Try white noise

A Couple More Ideas for the Desperate Parent

The Sleep Deprived Will Do Crazy Things

A few more things to try when the above suggestions don't work at all.

1. WHITE NOISE

A humidifier or fan will provide enough white noise to block out all other noises that may be distracting to your child.

2. NIGHT LIGHT OR NOT

Be aware of whether your child wants or DOES NOT want a little light in her room. The light shining from under the door might be just enough to bother her. In that case, make sure the hall light is off.

3. BEDTIME PREP

I already talked about the things you can do to make bedtime an official part of your autistic child's day. Sometimes, though, your child needs to understand it by talking about it. We have found that telling our daughter that she WILL sleep in on Saturday and Sunday actually helps her to sleep in. Likewise, we have discussed how she WILL be going to sleep at 8:30pm on school nights can help. By the way, now our daughter is 10, and her school bus comes much earlier in the morning. This has helped tremendously with bedtime, because she is being consistently woken up before she is ready; she has to get up at 6am!

What's the longest your child has stayed up? - Mine stayed up until 5am, and woke up at 8am once. Ouch!

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    • VictoriaHolt profile image
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      VictoriaHolt 6 years ago

      @sandralynnsparks: Synaesthesia is a fascinating disorder. I've only read about it. I like to think that a lot of us have a little autism at one time or another...when I was a kid I used to love hiding in little places.

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      sandralynnsparks 6 years ago

      Good suggestions! In some ways synaesthesic kids have the same problems getting to sleep, and I used to make myself a confined space when I needed to calm down when I was little. Thank you for doing this lens!