Guest Post: Sleep Tips for children with an ASD diagnosis
None of our children sleep great. Estimates say between 50% and 90% of autistic people have some sleeping difficulties, whether that's going to sleep, staying asleep or sleeping at the wrong time. We've had it all. Over the years we've seen a few specialists and received lots of advice for our boys who have ASD and ADHD. Though it didn't all work for us, there's lots that can be tried to help children with autism and ADHD sleep well.
The first step is to establish a good bedtime routine. Many people with autism and ADHD can find routines helpful. We have established a routine that happens every night that gives the boys notice of their bedtime, helps them calm their senses and creates an environment to help them be ready for sleep. It tells the boys it's nearly time to go to sleep and creates an environment ready for it.
If you have established a good routine and there is still some difficulty, the first things to try are easy adaptions to it. Bringing bedtime forward or back, taking away a story if it excites instead of relaxes the children or remove a night light if you think it's stimulating their minds.
If there is still little success, here are some other suggestions that can be tried. Thanks to the Scope sleep experts who have added there thoughts to this list, you can see their additions in bold.
- No blue light is the evenings can help with their bodies natural production of melatonin to bring on the onset of sleep. For us this was hard work given the boys obsessions with TV, iPads and games. Tv’s, Ipads, phones etc. all emit a blue light that suppresses your body’s natural production of Melatonin, so for the hour leading up to bedtime no screens.
- Adding calming smells to the bath or bedroom. Some people with autism have a heightened sense and enjoyment of smells. A relaxing scent such as lavender can help. Be cautious when using lavender as it can have the adverse effect
- A weighted blanket or heavy blankets can provide a feeling of calm pressure for sensory seekers. Others are sensory sensitive and need clothes that are seam free or without tags and covers are light and loose. We would advise that you seek an OT assessment before using weighted blankets as they are all made to the individual child’s requirements
- No lights and black-out curtains to create a dark room. Some people with autism can be very sensitive to light and even a small night light or the sunlight through curtains can be enough to disrupt their sleep.
- Others need light to help them feel safe and calm. Some autistic people can find true darkness extremely frightening so use a night light. But this must be kept on all night as we don’t want to change the environment that the child went to sleep in
- Removing distractions works for others. Our younger son needs bare walls and simple furnishings so he it's not distracted. Bare walls in pastel colours, minimal furnishings and objects is a good calming environment for a child’s room.
I’m afraid it’s mostly trial and error, but it's worth noting that these things should ideally be trialed over a few weeks to establish them as part of a routine. If after trying these types of things there is still difficulty in sleeping then your GP or Pediatrician can offer further advice. We headed down this route with one of our son's and the medication hasn't really helped him either. However, we've definitely improved his sleeping over the years and still use several of the techniques above to help him.
Have you tried these tips? Did they work for you? Do you have any other tips?
Ann is a full time mum, part time college teacher and writer at Rainbows are Too Beautiful. where she shares positive thoughts, ideas and experiences of life with her autistic and neurotypical kids. Her children also have diagnoses of ADHD, hypermobility, SPD, dyspraxia, anxiety and sleep issues.