• Autism Help UK

My Autistic child wont sleep, what can I do?

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Sleeping is critical in everyone's routine and co-asides with a healthy lifestyle. It is especially important in children’s development and studies show children who get an adequate amount of sleep will benefit so by having improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.


Overview:

  • What can happen if your child doesn't get enough sleep

  • What is good quality sleep?

  • What are preferred methods to help your child sleep?



What can happen if your child doesn’t get enough sleep?

Lack of sleep can cause the following:

  • Irritability

  • Increased stress

  • Forgetfulness

  • Difficulties with learning

  • Low motivation


However, what is even more worrying is that continued lack of sleep in children can highly contribute to severe anxiety and can even cause depression.


What is good sleep?

It is recommended to follow the table below for a guide on how long your child should sleep daily.

  • 12 to 16 hours per day (including naps) between ages 4 months and 12 months

  • 11 to 14 hours per day (including naps) between ages 1 and 2

  • 10 to 13 hours per day (including naps) between ages 3 and 5

  • 9 to 12 hours per day between ages 6 and 12

  • 8 to 10 hours per day between ages 13 and 18


For your child to optimise their brain function and to remain healthy you have to make sure the quality of that sleep is proper. So remember good sleep is un-interrupted and when you get to bed you can generally fall asleep within 30 minutes.


Children that struggle to get to sleep or wake up multiple times throughout the night might have a sleeping disorder, or this may simply be indicative of anxiety. A study from ChildrensHealth.org says that children at young ages might suffer from anxiety from fear of the dark and/or fear of having nightmares.



What are preferred methods for helping your child with sleep?

Create a sleep schedule

As a general rule sleeping is best done when it is consistent and appropriate. The best sleep your child will get is when they have a regular pattern in place.


To understand your child's sleep schedule you need to know how much sleep they need for their age. Your child might need up to 11 hours of sleep daily. Because of this, you will want to set the time they go to sleep early so they can wake up at an appropriate time.


Creating the sleep schedule is more than just knowing the times. You need to make sure your child is ready for sleep by the time they get to bed. Make sure you plan the day out for your child so they are tired at the correct time.


Routine and patterns

Routine is key for getting your child to have a healthy amount of sleep. Your child will benefit from more sleep if they are used to the cycle and day-to-day activities.


You should have in place a bedtime routine that you follow daily so your child is prepared to go to sleep.


Autistic children need extra support when going to sleep so it is best. Just before bed, you will want to start some soothing activities. For example

  • Reading bedtime stories

  • Visual clues to show them it's bedtime

  • Soft sounds - whale noises, car’s driving, soft breathing

  • Aromatherapy - Relaxing smells


Again it’s the repeated practice of doing this every night that will help your child understand the correct and appropriate times to sleep.


If your child keeps waking up in the night just calmly and gently take them to bed so they can go back to sleep.


Being comfortable

Comfort is the most important factor when helping your child to sleep. They need to be in the right setting or they will suffer from not getting to sleep at the correct time and the sleep not being at its most optimal.


Your child should have a quiet sleeping space unless they are soothed by soft sounds. Make sure you eliminate loud sounds and reduce movement around the house to help this.


Make sure your child has a dimly lit room. Some children don't like pitch blackness because they can feel anxious. A nightlight can help children feel like there is a sense of safety without creating an overwhelming presence.


Be active during the daytime

If your child has problems sleeping after trying these steps then your child might struggle to get enough exercise or movement throughout the day.


Children have a lot of energy that needs to be burned up. It is best to keep the activities well before bedtime. Just before dinner, you should encourage your child to go out and play outside.


What to avoid before bedtime

Your child will have triggers that will encourage them to stay up all night. It is common in every child. Look at the following to ensure your child has the best sleep possible:

  • Caffeine

  • Balanced diet

  • Off electronics an hour or two before bed


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