The causes of these sleep issues vary, and they can range from neurological conditions to anxiety or inefficient melatonin production. As this is the case, my first piece of advice is to consult your child’s doctor to ensure there is nothing else you could be doing to help them sleep better.
Once you’ve determined everything is okay and they are just struggling, you can try one of these remedies to help them sleep better.
Block out Sound and Light from Their Bedroom
To avoid any unwanted sensory stimuli, start by removing all light and sound distractions from your child’s bedroom. Ideally, you want to use blackout curtains so that no external light can penetrate the room. Also, make sure the windows are as soundproof as possible.
If you find your child would still prefer a light source, introduce one that won’t disrupt their circadian rhythm. That should be something very dim and neutral. If they also prefer white noise, a soothing sound machine will be a much better option than the outdoors’ random sounds.
Make the Bed Snuggly
Everyone, including us adults, prefers to sleep in cozy, snuggly, and soft beds. When it comes to autistic children, a soothing and comfortable sleep environment is essential. You’ll want to do your very best to make your child’s sleep oasis their little piece of comfy heaven.
If they have a particular toy they like, make sure it’s there for sleepy time. It’s a good idea to keep it only in the bed, so your child can associate it with bedtime.
Find a combination of pillows, throws, and blankets that will keep them warm but not too hot and that they like. You may also want to try a weighted blanket, as it has been shown to help reduce anxiety and insomnia.
Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine
Routines are vital to the well-being of autistic children, and bedtime routines are no different. They are a sign that it’s now time to wind down and start producing more sleep-inducing melatonin. Adults can benefit from the same routines, so you might want to establish one for yourself too.
Here are some of the steps you might want to try and introduce to your kid’s routine:
- Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. This will give your child enough time to let go of the stimulating influence of technology.
- Have them put on comfy PJs they like.
- Help them brush their teeth.
- Prepare a bath or shower.
- Prepare the bed for sleep.
- Read a bedtime story or snuggle.
- Tell a story to the toy that your child is sleeping with.
Whatever your routine is, make sure you stick to it every night, including weekends and holidays. If you only do it on weeknights, it won’t be as impactful as it could be, and you’ll just be confusing your child additionally.
Give Them a Time Warning
If they respond better to visual cues, you can devise a more visual system. Also, try to go to bed roughly at the same time every night so that they aren’t confused by the difference.
Monitor Your Child’s Responses
Try to write down how well your child sleeps depending on particular activities during the day, the foods they’ve eaten, and at what time they had their meals.
Some kids will sleep better if they’ve been active in the afternoon. Others will be too excited to sleep, so that that morning physical activity might work better for them. Various foods will also impact melatonin production differently. Sugary food especially can cause your child to have trouble falling asleep.
Keep a little journal with the most important information written down, and you will likely be able to spot a pattern after a while.
When your child isn’t sleeping well, you are bound to feel frustrated and sometimes even inadequate. Don’t forget that sleep issues are a common part of living with autism and a way to work around them. You need to remain patient and work towards a solution.