Autism Sleep Problems: Help Your Child Get a Restful Night

Ensuring your child has good sleep hygiene can seem daunting as a parent, but autism-related sleep issues can bring a whole new twist to what counts as a good night’s sleep. Children with autism are known to have different social and sensory behaviors than typically developing children, both of which can contribute to sleep problems.

Autism Sleep Problems: Help Your Child Get a Restful Night

There are many ways to measure and track sleep problems in a certain population. Data can be collected on particular sleep issues, the person’s age, IQ (intelligence quotient), how, when and why, and more.

Research shows that the duration and quality of sleep depends on the individual. Some people need a full night’s sleep to function the next day, while others can sleep for a few hours and be ready for the day.

Children with autism may have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. They can be known to get up in the middle of the night and go for a walk, play video games, or whatever interests them when everyone else is asleep.

In the article, Autism and sleep disorders, by Preeti Devnani and Anaita Hegde, the authors discuss possible links between autism spectrum disorders and sleep problems. They say there’s not one thing to look at when trying to figure out why autistic children have trouble sleeping.

Family and genetic factors, the environment, immune deficiencies, and how the child’s brain functions and prepares for sleep all have a role to play in sleep disorders. For example, they state that there is evidence to suggest an association between sleep and different melatonin rhythms and autism and how these levels might directly affect sleep.

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The article highlights the importance of different neurotransmitters like serotonin, which require melatonin for a consistent and regulated sleep pattern. Since children with Autism Spectrum Disorders may have trouble regulating melatonin, this could be a cause and the beginning of why the child is having trouble sleeping.

Brain chemistry and genetics can be a starting point, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Being a parent who has tried to get an autistic child to sleep as recommended by the pediatrician can be a task, knowing the whys and wherefores can help both the child and the parent better navigate a fuller, more complete sleep for the child. autistic child.

How can we help our autistic children sleep better?

Do you need a local sleep specialist to help you create a sleep plan and set up a sleep diary as part of the plan to use tonight? What would that look like? Could this work? These questions may cross a sleep deprived parent’s mind as they try to find the solution to their child’s sleep problems as soon as possible.

It is suggested in the article, Sleep problems in autism spectrum disorders: prevalence, nature and possible biopsychosocial etiologies by Amanda Richdale and Kimberly Schreck, that lack of sleep is caused by poor sleep hygiene practices, such as the lack of a solid bedtime routine or unhealthy sleep associations, such as snacking or watching TV before going to bed.

In order to combat these negative associations and behaviors before bedtime, it is recommended to start positive bedtime routines, such as calming activities before bedtime, and to establish a consistent bedtime schedule. I would suggest a family walk about two hours before bedtime, followed by a bath and story time. I’ve also heard that people enjoy the smell of lavender lotions and/or lavender scent in the room.

There are positive associations that have linked the smell of lavender and an overall sense of calm, which may lead to better sleep. If there are other things parents notice that help calm their child and better prepare them for sleep, they can try including those activities in the bedtime routine.

Would keeping a sleep diary help?

There are many ways diaries and diaries can be used, especially when it comes to tracking the behaviors and sleep patterns of children with autism. Before you start a sleep journal or diary, it’s important to know why and what information you want to track.

Keep a sleep diary

  • Know what you are following: Do you track hours per night? Consecutive hours? Does your child suffer from sleep apnea, night terrors or other sleep disorders? If you know what you are tracking, you can check pre-made sleep logs on the internet or create your own diary or diary.
  • Stay consistent: make an entry every night or every morning, depending on what you’re following. It can become part of the night or morning routine to write down the information needed for that day.
  • Keep an open conversation about your child’s sleeping habits: This conversation should take place with your doctor or health care provider and your therapist or technician. They may have ideas that can help your child sleep better. Or, if they’re concerned, they can order assessments or supports that might bring more consistency to your child.
  • Keep an open mind: Remember that your child is unique and has unique needs. Some approaches may help your child with sleep problems, others may not work. This is all a process and can take time. This is one reason why it’s a good idea to have a set goal in place. It’s bonus points if you’re able to make those goals measurable, like hours of sleep per night, etc.

What else could help?

If you’ve tried the ideas in this article and your child is still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or GP. They are trained in many aspects of health and may know something that can help your child. If not, they might refer your child to someone who might know something that could help.

A few main points to keep in mind are to try to set a bedtime that is the same every night, even on weekends, and stick to it. Children with autism generally respond well to a schedule.

According to the article, Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, about two out of three children with autism suffer from some form of insomnia. Armed with this knowledge, they would recommend:

  • Education: Parent should learn more about sleep and how it differs from autism
  • Changes in the environment: It could just be having neutral tones in a child’s room versus bright and strong colors, not showing a loud and exciting TV show before bed, etc. It might also be beneficial to try a weighted blanket or other item to meet your child’s sensory needs before bed. Check and assess the environment for any type of sensory stimulation or anything that can cause sleep disturbances may impact sleep readiness
  • Therapies and support: Sometimes difficulty falling asleep can be caused by behavioral issues and not understanding the time of day, time blindness, and what to do to get ready for bed. There are behavioral and other therapies and supports available that can help children learn positive sleep behavior and bedtime skills for better sleep.
  • Melatonin: There are two different types of melatonin. The one created in the body is endogenous and may be what children with autism don’t produce as regularly. Then there is the exogenous supplement or melatonin which can be taken as a vitamin and allows the body to relax and prepare for sleep. Autism Parents Magazine does not recommend giving a supplement or trying an activity before discussing the pros and cons with a doctor or other medical personnel

Are more zzz on the way?

There are many forms of support parents can get when it comes to helping their child sleep better. It can be a process, but the results are worth it for both child and parent.

Sleep difficulties are so difficult and can be exhausting for parents and children. Remember that there are resources and support available if you ask the right questions and approach the right people.

There are autism parent support groups that discuss so many aspects of autism and sleep disorders or other sleep issues and could be the voice of knowledge a parent needs. Additionally, primary care physicians should be able to assist or provide resources and help the parent and child sleep better.

Whether it’s infants or school-aged children with autism, there’s a way to help young people with autism get a better night’s sleep. A sleep disorder doesn’t have to be the end result and a good night’s sleep can be at hand when the support is there to invite the child to sleep.


Connell, J., Eriksen, W., Kerns, C., Pinto-Martin, J., Schaaf, R., Sinko, R., Souders, M. & Zaodny, S. (2018). Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Devnani, P. & Hegde, A. (2015). Autism and sleep disorders.

Richdale, A. & Schrek, K. (2009). SLeep problems in autism spectrum disorders: prevalence, nature and possible biopsychosocial etiologies.