There are many children with autism that struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep at night. This can bring about a number of challenges and potential behavior issues for kids who need more rest to be their best.
Here are a few tips for parents who want to make certain their little ones are getting the best sleep possible, in a way that works for them.
Factors That Affect An Autistic Child’s Sleep
Before we take a closer look at the best ways to help your autistic child get better sleep, it’s important to understand some of the primary factors that can impact their sleep to begin with. Some of the biggest ones are:
- What they do before they go to bed.
- What time they go to bed.
- What they need to get to sleep.
- Where they go to sleep.
- What they do during the day.
All of these factors will come into play with your child’s bedtime routine and small tweaks can make all of the difference. Understanding the factors that affect your child’s sleep is only half the battle, you also need to know practical tips to help make their bedtime better.
Tips For Making an Autistic Child’s Bedtime Better
Sleep is so important for any child, but is particularly essential for children with autism. When children with autism aren’t getting enough sleep they are more likely to experience even more sensory issues, sensitivities and behavior challenges.
Good rest can make some of these things more manageable.
Here are a few proven tips that can help make a child’s bedtime better.
- Set up a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is essential in helping any child fall asleep quickly. Whether it’s reading before bed or a nice bath, the routine is essential to your child’s quality of sleep.
- Prepare them for bedtime. Most kids aren’t super excited about bedtime approaching, so consider reminding your child at different intervals how close to bedtime they are (30 mins, 15, mins, 10 mins, etc.).
- Praise and reward. Rewards and praise are a great motivating factor, particularly with children who have autism. Don’t be afraid to use small rewards and praise to encourage better bedtime behavior.
- Figure out the best timing for your child. It is essential to figure out what the best time is for your child to go to bed each night so they are getting enough sleep. Every child is different and different kids may need different amounts of time to sleep.
- Set up healthy associations. What does your child associate bedtime with? Bedtime shouldn’t be a negative thing or a punishment. Frame bedtime as an opportunity to rest so that your child has the energy to enjoy the exciting things that tomorrow will bring.
- Create an environment where your child feels safe. This is particularly important for children with autism, especially those with sensory issues. A safe place is a calm place for your child to sleep.
- Avoid screens and caffeine before bedtime. Caffeine, sugar and other stimulants can make it nearly impossible for children to fall asleep when bedtime rolls around. Limit these types of stimulants in the afternoon and evening if possible. You should also be aware of screen time. Studies show that the blue light from screens can make it difficult for the brain to shut off and for adults or children to fall asleep.
- Get enough physical activity throughout the day. If you want your child with autism to fall asleep and stay asleep, then they need to be tired at bedtime. If your child spends the day sitting around, they may not feel tired when it’s bedtime. Physical activity is a great way to wear them out and help you feel as though they need sleep and recovery time.
- Keep naps early and short. Naps are important for many younger children with autism, but they can also get in the way of bedtime. If your child still naps but isn’t tired at night, consider limiting naps to the morning and keeping them short, so your child is tired by the end of the day.
- Consistency is key. Your daily (and nightly) routine should be as consistent as possible. This will help your child’s body know it’s time for bed every night and help them develop solid sleep patterns.
These strategies can help, but some parents may still be wondering why their child with autism struggles with sleep issues in the first place.
Why Do Autistic Children Have Difficulty Sleeping?
There are countless concerned parents of children with autism who struggle with sleep. Studies have shown that some children with autism don’t release melatonin at the correct times of day. Instead they have high levels of melatonin during the day time and lower levels at night. When this occurs, you will notice your child with autism is sleepy during the day, and wide awake at night.
Doctors have come up with certain interventions, including melatonin tablets that can help reverse this issue. However, it isn’t the only cause of potential sleep issues in children with autism.
Anxiety is very calm in kids on the autism spectrum, and it is a condition that could adversely impact sleep. Children with autism also have increased sensitivity to outside stimuli, meaning the smallest thing, like the feeling of a mattress, or a specific sound or light can make it nearly impossible to sleep.
Correcting some of these issues can be difficult, but the good news is, there are products out there that can help children with autism get the rest that they need.
Blankets For Autistic Children
There are certain tools and accessories that can help make bedtime easier for children with autism. A lot of research has gone into weighted blankets for kids with autism and those studies have shown they can help encourage better sleep patterns.
Here are some of our favorite blankets for children with autism.
Dream Weighted Sleep Blanket For Kids
This weighted blanket is specifically made for kids and toddlers aged three and up. This weighted blanket is a gentle 4 lbs and designed to feel like a secure and comforting hug. We love that this blanket provides deep pressure stimulation that will naturally reduce anxiety and alleviate sensory overload—making it a great option for children with autism.
This weighted blanket from TV host Cheryl Hickey’s line of products comes in different weights. However, our favorite feature is that it was designed to imitate Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation which helps promote REM sleep, relax the nervous system and boost serotonin. It can also help improve mood and reduce stress. This makes it a great blanket for children with autism who struggle to sleep due to anxiety or hyperactivity.
As the name suggests, this weighted blanket is all about providing kids with a sense of calm. You can choose the right weight for your child with this company, so they have the perfect weight for their needs. This brand also makes other sensory items that can help kids with sensory overload to experience a sense of calm before bed.
Other Products to Help An Autistic Child Sleep
Blankets are some of the most common aids to help children with autism who struggle to sleep, but there are other products that can help as well. Take a look at some of our top choices.
Rohm Portable White Noise Sound Machine
White noise is a great tool for children with autism who are sensitive to noise while they are trying to sleep. We love this sound machine because it is suitable for on-the-go use and can be utilized while you travel. This machine creates a soothing white noise sound and creates a consistent sound environment for kids who have sensory issues.
ZPod Autism Bed
The ZPod Autism Bed comes from Autism-Products.com. It creates a more controlled sleep environment for kids with autism. This sensory bed is filled with features including lighting control, white noise generators and air filters. The goal is this bed is to control virtually every aspect of their sleep environment, so your child doesn’t have to worry about outside influences impacting their ability to fell asleep.
Sleepy Time Pillow
The Sleepy Time Pillow is another sleep-centered from Autism-Products.com. This pillow has soothing lavender that promotes relaxation and naturally helps with anxiety. It also features a sensory-specific design that children with autism can enjoy. You can even put this pillow in the freezer to provide a calming, but cooling sensation.
Sleep issues are a common problem for parents of children with autism, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions available that can help keep these problems at bay. With the right approach and the right accessories, you can finally help your child get the quality sleep that they deserve.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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