Navigating Sleep: The importance of sleep and tips on creating good sleep hygiene

The reports that on average children with autism have sleep difficulties up to 80% of the time, compared to typically developing children at thirty percent of the time. Not only is there a higher prevalence of sleep problems, but they also tend to be more severe in children with an autism diagnosis. There is a wide variety of sleep problems, which can include:

  • Restlessness or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Early morning awakening
  • Sleep parasomnias
  • Snoring
  • Difficulty falling asleep

With sleep disturbances being so frequent in individuals with an autism diagnosis, it is so important to address it. “Over half of children with autism – and possibly as many as four in five – have one or more chronic sleep problems.”  These can include:

  • Decreased sleep can cause mood disturbances, irritability, and behavioral dysregulation.
  • Sleep disruptions can make focusing and staying on task difficult, which decreases learning potentials.
  • Decreased sleep of a child can create strain on a caregiver and the family as a whole.

Tips to create good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is basically good sleep habits. It consists of having daily environmental and bedroom routines that help promote quality sleep. Below are tips from to help establish healthy sleep hygiene.

  1. Sleep Environment: Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool. The key is to keep your child as comfortable as possible. Distracting noises, lights, or temperatures may be particularly overwhelming for a child with ASD.
  2. Bedtime Routine: Create a short (20-30 min), simple, and predictable nighttime routine. Avoid electronics and TV, which can stimulate your child and make is difficult to fall asleep. Include relaxing and calming activities such as reading or listening to calm quiet music.
  3. Sleep/ Wake Schedule: Create a regular schedule for bedtime and wake up times. Make sure weekdays and weekends do not differ too much with the times.
  4. Teach your child to fall asleep alone: Sleep training allows your child to be able to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night if they are to wake briefly. It is important that they are able to fall asleep without a caregiver present.
  5. Exercise: Daily exercise can help your child fall asleep easier and have a deeper sleep. Make sure the exercise is not too close to your nighttime routine because it can have an opposite effect and make falling asleep harder.
  6. Avoid Caffeine: Some teas, chocolates, and sodas can have caffeine in them. Limit the amount of caffeine during the day and try to avoid it close to bedtime. Caffeine can make your child more alert, which can make falling asleep much more difficult.
  7. Naps: Naps are important for preschool age children, but as your child gets older it can interfere with nighttime sleep. If your child does still nap, try to stay away from taking late afternoon naps.

Always address any medical concerns with your doctor that may be interfering with good sleep. Medications and/ or sleep disorders should be consulted with medical professionals prior to any changes in dosages or treatments.

Even though the occurrence of sleep problems is higher in individuals with autism, there are ways to improve sleep quality. Creating good sleep hygiene can really help to improve daily functioning for your child and for you.

Here at ABA Autism Therapy, our treatment program – tailored to your child’s specific needs – can assist in a multitude of areas, including sleep patterns and behaviors concerning bed and nap time.  Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you and your family!