Everyone has trouble falling asleep from time to time. But, kids with special needs can have special challenges with falling asleep and staying asleep. Research indicates that between 40 and 80 percent of people with autism experience struggles when it comes to sleep. These challenges include not being able to fall asleep easily, waking too early, waking up in the middle of the night, and daytime sleepiness. Kids with autism already have special needs, and when they don’t get enough sleep, they often have more struggles with behavior and self-control.

Research on Autistic Children and Sleep

Research on Children with Special Needs and Sleep

How to Help Your Autistic Child Sleep Better

First Steps – The first step to helping an autistic child improve sleep patterns is to rule out any physical issues that could be negatively affecting sleep.

Home Environment – Your home environment plays a big role in how your child rests and sleeps.

  • Control the amount of light that enters your child’s bedroom.
  • Consider buying blackout curtains to keep the room calm and dark.
  • Reduce the amount of blue spectrum light your child is exposed to before bedtime.
  • Establishing Positive Sleep Patterns

Address Smells – People with autism often have a heightened sense of smell, which can disrupt sleep.

Address Textures – The textures in the sleep environment could be causing problems.

Address Noises – While you might not be bothered by noises, a child with autism could find even minor noises disruptive.

  • Carpet hard floors.
  • Add insulation to walls to keep outdoor noises from intruding into the home.
  • Fix squeaky hinges and noisy beds.
  • A white noise machine can also help by masking background noises.
  • Sleep Concerns

Climate Control – A room that’s overly warm may make it hard to sleep.

  • Keep the air moving in the bedroom.
  • Don’t allow the air temperature to become too warm. Lowering the thermostat can be helpful, especially for someone sleeping under a weighted blanket.
  • How to Get Kids with Autism to Bed

Nutrition – Your child’s diet can have a direct impact on sleep.

  • Avoid sugar and caffeine for your autistic child, because this can increase sensitivities.
  • Encourage your child to be done eating an hour prior to bedtime, because eating can be a stimulating experience.
  • Your child might also benefit from increasing foods that contain omega-3 fats.
  • Simple Ways to Help Your Child with ASD Sleep Without Medicine

How to Manage Sleep Hygiene – Sleep hygiene involves the process of preparing for sleep, and it involves all of the aspects of creating a positive sleep environment and controlling the diet.

  • Avoid active play for the last two hours of the day.
  • Avoid technology for the final hour of the day.
  • Try not to disrupt the nighttime routine.
  • Don’t get your child dependent on snuggling in bed or rocking to fall asleep.
  • Get homework and other challenging activities done before dinner, if possible.
  • Sleep Hygiene
  • How to Get Children with Autism to Sleep

Additional Information for Parents