September 28, 2020

Autism & Insomnia, How Parents Can Help Their Kids Get More Sleep

Written by Rachel Eddins

Autism Insomnia white child sleeping with teddy bear

Every kid out there deserves good rest.

When people think of children with autism, their minds immediately go to behavioral symptoms– but that’s not all that autism is.

Children with autism have many fights to go through in life, but parents can help make it easier for them.

One of the biggest struggles that most people don’t know about is the change in sleep patterns, and the inability some children have to fall asleep.

Autism and insomnia go hand in hand and can change how your child experiences the world.

An exhausted child can have more trouble regulating or working through emotional difficulties, which could line them up for meltdowns and upset.

Every kid out there deserves good rest.


Here are 10 ways to ensure your child gets enough sleep and set them up for better days:

1- Let Them Discuss Their Day

Although some children with autism may have trouble discussing their days or may be nonverbal, take the time to talk through their day with them.

By working through your current day, you give them the chance to finish up any projects that might be on their mind.

Avoid talking about plans for the next day, or next week, because it can fire their brains up into focusing on them.

2- Avoid Mentioning Special Interests

It may not be easy to coax some kids out of talking about special interests, but it’s a step you should take at bedtime.

Special interests, hyper focuses, and other subjects that excite your child will fire them up with serotonin and keep them from wanting to sleep.

Avoid discussing these, but don’t punish your kid if they bring it up.

3- Let Them Feel Secure

Help your kid sleep by giving them an environment geared toward comfort and relaxation. Anxiety and autism often go hand in hand. Strategies to reduce anxiety at bedtime can be helpful.

A weighted blanket can ease anxiety, and lowered lights and soft pillows can also help. If a white or pink noise machine isn’t distracting, it can also lull their minds into restfulness and reduce anxiety.

4- Read With Them

Reading can stimulate the mind, but it can also set up pathways to help their sleep be more pleasant. If your child can read, ask them to read with you as you settle in.

If they don’t like reading aloud and don’t want you to either, offer to bring your book, and you can read together in bed. Avoid using tablets or phones for reading since the screens will disrupt their ability to sleep.

5- Be Patient

Changes can be difficult, especially for kids with autism. Be patient, and don’t expect things to change immediately, your child will need time to acclimate.

If they mess up or don’t go according to plan, talk to your child calmly and discuss what can be fixed. It’s okay if this takes longer, you’re trying to help them in the long term.

6- Avoid Drinking Before Bed

Drinking before bed means that your child may be more likely to get up in the middle of the night.

Ensure they drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, and then around an hour before bed stop drinking and make sure they use the restroom.

This step will help them sleep through a full night, instead of having to ease themself back down into sleep after getting up.

7- Calm Down Their Environment

No child lives alone. They have at least one guardian and may have siblings, pets, and other relatives in the house.

Make it clear that the whole house needs to calm down before bed.

Set a phone alarm an hour before your hopeful bedtime for your kid, and work with others in your household to calm down things.

8- Use Signal Switches

Signal switches are a powerful tool for anyone with autism or anxiety. These allow people to focus on the next task, leaving behind whatever was claiming their focus.

Signal switches can be a soothing alarm on your phone, a timer in their room, or some other daily auditory thing that will tell your child it’s time to move to the next step.

Use it every day at the same time, and make sure your child understands their purpose.

9- Wake Them Up At The Same Time Every Day

A large part of sleep is ensuring your child is also waking up on schedule.

Get them up at the same time every morning, regardless of whether they have school or not.

This step will help train their brains to need sleep after bedtime and help them sleep through a full night.

10- Ritual

This step is one of the most successful ways to change anyone’s sleep schedule, but it does need a lot of work. By changing the hour, or half-hour, before a kid goes to bed, you can help coax their brain into sleep.

The first couple of times will be hard, but after that, their mind will immediately recognize when it’s bedtime. In the hour or half-hour, before, you can help your child bathe, read from a book they like, or anything else on this list.

Make sure to do the same thing, at the same time, every night, and you’ll help train their brains to sleep.

Get Parenting Support with Help from a Therapist

If you are having difficulty in parenting realize you are not alone. Children with autism and insomnia can sometimes require professional help.

Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, TX has many experienced child, teen, and parenting experts. Book an appointment online or call us at 832-559-2622

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