Children with Autism don’t tend to sleep well through the night. Estimates say between 50% and 90% of autistic people have some sleeping difficulties, whether that’s going to sleep, sleeping at the wrong time, or staying asleep. Thankfully there are lots of products that can be tried to help children many children feel calm, safe and ready for sleep.
The first step, is to establish a good bedtime routine. Can you believe this is called sleep hygiene! Many people with autism, or ADHD, can find routines helpful and calming. Established a routine, that happens every night to give the children advance notice of their bedtime, help them calm their senses, and creates an environment to get them to be ready for sleep. This could include words and suggestion, calming music, having a bath, low lighting, a bedtime story, hugs and night lights (with music and/or essential oils). Try different combinations to see what works best for your children. Bedtimes often depend on after school activities and dinnertime.
Some kids sleep best with different gear. This could be their PJs, bed, mattress, bedding, overhead lights, night lights, curtains/blinds and even bedroom layout can have an impact on how well your kids sleep. Are the sheets scratchy? Is there too much clutter in the room? How is the temperature in the room? Is there a smell? Distracting noise levels (like TV) definitely play a role too.
Here are some of the top things you can try:
Some children have auditory sensitivity, which makes it difficult to fall asleep if there is any noise (like parents watching TV!) in the house. You might find that the simplest solution is to use a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
You can also try a sound machine, which emits a white noise or other melodies, to tune out background sounds, like the TV.
One of our other kids isn’t quite as sensitive but does need to have white noise to sleep. We have tried different things over the years but have found that the Aroma Snooze is works best for us. It is soothing as well as providing white noise and makes sleeping much easier. Check price here:
Deep Pressure (Proprioception)
Some children prefer to sleep under a weighted blanket. There are a variety of types and some are heavier than others. I bought mine from Sheridan and it has a silky feel to it
You may prefer to make your own. You can find tutorials on how to make your own weighted blankets which will cut the cost significantly.
Note, some parents find massages before bedtime can also help with proprioception input, depends on the child.
Some children need it to be completely dark in order to fall asleep, while others prefer to have a nightlight. It’s a good idea to use a dimmable night light because that way, they can adjust to the amount of light they are comfortable with.
EasyNight Blackout Blinds
These blackout blind kits provide complete blackout when applied correctly to the window. They can be hung either way on your window and can be cut to size with no hemming required (no fray material). Everything required to hang the easy night blinds is included in the kits.
Some kids get too hot in the bed and this affects their ability to get to sleep, and stay asleep. You can get a Chillow pillow on ebay that may help:
Regal Sleep Solutions have a cooling mattress. Click the link below to see them.
Be sure to offer a variety of sensory activities throughout the day. Meeting your child’s sensory needs during the day will positively impact your child’s ability to fall asleep at night.
Track patterns, using a sleep journal, and see if you are able to pinpoint things that may be impacting your child’s sleep. Seeing their sleep patterns on a calendar can help you find where their insomnia may be tied to anxiety over school, or peers. Seeing their sleep tracked in relation to food or behaviour or sensory triggers can also help you see the patterns that are emerging
To help melatonin production, limit screen time during the day and don’t allow children to use devices in the two hours before bedtime. This will improve their body’s ability to fall asleep.
Have a consistent bedtime routine and bedtime. This structure and predictability around bedtime is especially important for kids with autism.
Some parents swear by putting calming essential oils in a diffuser. You can also use them with epsom salts in a warm bath before bedtime.
These are just some ideas. Please let me know if you have any tips too and I will keep updating this post over time!