For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), sleep challenges are common. Establishing healthy sleep habits is crucial for all children, but especially for children with ADHD and autism. Today I’m sharing 7 sleep tips for children with autism.
Creating a consistent bedtime routine is hugely important for children with autism. Having a predictable bedtime routine that is the exact same every night goes a long way in helping your little one transition from awake to asleep. Consistency helps children understand what to expect and signals their bodies that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Children with autism are often sensitive to sensory stimuli. Create a sleep environment that minimizes sensory triggers and promotes relaxation. Consider using blackout curtains to eliminate excessive light, white noise machines to mask distracting sounds, and comfortable bedding to provide a soothing touch. Experiment with different textures. You may also try a weighted blankets (over age 6 only) as some children with autism find them comforting.
Visual supports, such as a visual daytime schedule or a bedtime routine checklist, can help children with autism understand and anticipate routines better. Use pictures or written cues to guide them through the steps. It’s often fun for your little one to check off each step in the bedtime routine as they go.
Engaging in regular physical activity during the day can help children with autism expend energy and promote better sleep at night. Encourage activities that provide sensory input, such as swinging, jumping, or playing with textured materials. Regular physical activity helps regulate sleep and increase sleepiness.
Create a calming routine in the hour leading up to bedtime. Limit stimulating activities, such as screen time or intense play, and encourage activities that promote relaxation. Some examples include quiet play, gentle stretching exercises, or engaging in calming hobbies like drawing or listening to soft music.
Children with autism often experience anxiety or sensory overload that can disrupt their sleep. Feeling anxious or tense makes it both difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Create a safe space where your little one can practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s an example of a progressive muscle relaxation exercise for kids. Another helpful tool is teaching your child positive self-talk. You can teach your child to say things like: “I’m a big girl, and I’m not afraid” or “I’m a great sleeper and so brave.”
Every child with autism is unique, and their sleep needs may vary. If sleep difficulties persist or significantly impact your child’s well-being, I recommend scheduling an appointment with your child’s pediatrician.
I hope these sleep tips for children with autism help your little one sleep better. Creating routines and structure around bedtime for a child with autism can be challenging but is hugely important. If you need help finding sleep solutions that work for your family, I invite you to reach out to me.