The world is an exciting place. There’s so much to take in that sometimes it’s hard to close your eyes at night. This is especially true for kids on the autism spectrum. With their minds racing and their senses alight, sleep can feel out of reach. That may be one reason why as many as 80 percent of kids on the spectrum suffer from insomnia.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t help our kids nod off at night. You just need a little patience and some assistance from our tips for helping your child with autism sleep better.
The road to a good night’s sleep starts from the moment we wake up in the morning. That’s because our bodies operate on a 24-hour internal clock known as our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm controls when our bodies release sleep-inducing melatonin and other hormones that help us fall asleep and wake up. And our circadian rhythm—like many of our kids with autism—loves routine.
To work with your kid’s circadian rhythm, try these tricks:
- Have them go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night (even weekends)
- Turn off electronics and dim the lights about an hour before bed—light and darkness impact the circadian rhythm
- Have them eat meals at consistent times throughout the day. Circadian rhythms also influence our digestive system, and heavy meals can make it harder to stay asleep
- Avoid naps longer than 20 minutes once kids get older. Long naps can throw off the rhythm
Along with this, doing the same few relaxing activities just before bedtime can help kids trick their bodies into entering “sleep mode.” Use graphic cards to help kids walk through taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, and reading a book.
Create a Good Sleep Environment
Kids with autism experience the senses very profoundly. It’s helpful to use them when building the perfect environment for helping them get a better night’s sleep.
Remember: light and darkness impact our circadian rhythm, and bright streetlamps and passing headlights outside can wake kids up throughout the night. Blackout curtains are an easy solution to help kids stay asleep.
For many kids with autism, their super-hearing would make Superman jealous. But this can also make it tricky to fall asleep when there are so many things to listen to. Consider investing in a white noise machine, but only if the noise isn’t irritating to your child.
Smells can make a big difference in whether your child is relaxed or distressed. Make sure you stay on top of washing the bedsheets regularly. And for a bonus, consider putting on some essential oils with soothing scents like lavender or cardamom.
Bedtime is all about touch. You’re surrounded by sheets and blankets that can either irritate or soothe. Make sure sheets, blankets, and pajamas are soft and smooth. Weighted blankets can also act as a perfect touch-based soother for children. Just make sure you keep pets out from underneath!
It’s a busy world, and we want to make sure our little ones have the energy to explore it all. Giving our kids the tools they need to get a good night’s sleep is the perfect way to do that.