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Autism Can Make Sleep a Real Challenge. Here Are Some Handy Tips For Bedtime from Science Alert

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for children’s learning and development. When young people don’t get enough sleep, it can impact their mood, school performance, health, and behavior.

Up to 80 percent of autistic children have trouble with their sleep. Common behavioral difficulties parents report include dyssomnias (problems going to sleep), parasomnias (problems waking up overnight), and early morning waking. These problems tend to persist if they are not treated effectively.

Tips to improve kids’ sleep

Parents can help their children get a good night’s sleep by using the universal approach to sleep readiness and behavioral sleep strategies. This includes:

  • setting a regular bedtime and waking up time
  • creating a safe, comfortable sleeping environment (cool, quiet, dark, screen-free)
  • following a regular bedtime routine that is calm and sleep-inducing
  • avoiding caffeine, electronic devices, and excitement before bed
  • encouraging physical activity during the day
  • avoiding exercise one hour before bed.

What if good sleep remains elusive?

In addition to practicing healthy sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine, parents can try out different behavioral strategies that might help their child. These include:

The checking method

This strategy can be helpful when children need a parent in the room to fall asleep or find it hard to stay in their bedroom.

Put your child to bed but promise to come back and check on them. Visit your child at regular intervals in the night to check on them and reassure them. Gradually stretch out interval times.

Checks should be boring and brief (around one minute).

Bedtime fading

This strategy can be helpful when children are unable to fall asleep at the desired bedtime.

Temporarily adjust bedtime to when your child is naturally falling asleep. Gradually bring bedtime forward in 15-minute increments every few days until desired bedtime is reached.

Relaxation training

These strategies can be helpful when children are anxious at bedtime or have difficulty falling asleep.

Teach your child progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage your child to lie down with their eyes closed and then tighten and relax all the muscles in their body, one after the other.

Teach your child controlled breathing. Help them learn to take long, slow breaths in through their nose and out through their mouth.

Encourage your child to write or draw the things that worry them during the day and put them away in a ‘worry box’.

Click here to learn more about how autism can impact your child’s sleep and ways you can help them get a good night’s rest!