Sleep problems are common for children on the ASD spectrum, but as we know, sleep is crucial to all of us. Although sleep may never be perfect for children with autism, we can do as much as we can to set them up for success. Today, we have 3 ways to help your child with ASD sleep better.
1. Personalized Bedtime Routine
While a bedtime routine is helpful for all children, those with autism need an even better version of the bedtime routine. Ideally, your child’s bedtime will be personalized to fit their unique needs. Having a routine is super important as many kids with ASD are very instinctual and rely heavily on their routines.
Another way to enhance your bedtime routine is to have a picture chart with the steps to follow. This not only helps your child know what comes next but helps you stay consistent and not veer too far off routine. This will limit disruptions to the routine and allow your child to have a more relaxed experience while getting ready for bed.
In addition, keep in mind that many bedtime routines are around 30 minutes, but children with ASD may need more time to shut-down. If you have found a faster bedtime routine tends to upset the flow, try allowing an hour (or more) for your bedtime routine. By not rushing through everything, you may find your child is more cooperative and goes to sleep faster and more peacefully.
Lastly, turn off ALL screens at least 1-2 hours before bedtime to help with the wind-down time. Not only do we want to limit even more stimulation leading up to bedtime, but we also want to limit blue light exposure. Blue light has been shown to affect melatonin production, which helps us all fall asleep.
2. Ideal Sleeping Environment
While a personalized bedtime routine is helpful, a personalized sleeping environment is even more important. Here are a few things to consider:
- White Noise – Consider white noise to drown out sounds to which your child may be sensitive. But, you may need to experiment with different types of white noise. Some white noise is too disruptive to some people such as birds chirping or non-monotonous sounds such as thunderstorm which may have random sounds occurring at irregular intervals.
- Black-out Curtains or Shades – When the sun rises, our bodies are designed to wake up. Some of us are more sensitive to light than others. Black-out curtains or shades can be helpful in blocking out some or all light to enable your child to sleep longer at night.
- Visual Cues – Consider using a device to give your child a visual clue when it’s OK to get up in the morning or come out of their room after a rest time during the day. A children’s clock that changes color is a good choice. We don’t want the clock to wake your child but, rather, when your child wakes up they have something to look toward to see if it’s time to get up for the day. Rarely, we hear about children waking too frequently to “check the clock.” If the clock is disrupting sleep, stop using it.
Another thing to consider is an app designed to emit soothing sounds for sleep. Developed by two stay-at-home dads, this app features Sympathetic Resonance tones from the Solfeggio Musical scale to promote sleep and well-being. Play these tones with any of the soothing pre-set white noise sounds, as well as the ability to record your own voice for lullabies or shushing. You can mix and match sounds with an individualized volume soundboard. This has been an absolute lifesaver when it comes to fussy and special needs children!
3. Check Your Child’s Diet
Carefully consider the foods being fed ALL day, not just at bedtime as kids with ASD/ADHD frequently have a harder time digesting dyes and other toxins. Also, keep processed sugar and simple carbs low. Food dyes have been around for a long time (more than 100 years, in fact), but children used to consume them only occasionally. Now, they are in many foods on the shelves at the store. By pinpointing the foods to which your child reacts negatively, you can improve not only their sleep but possibly their behavior as well. Nutrition has been linked to a host of issues, including sleep disorders. For help with nutrition, you may want to consider The Feingold Program.
You might also be interested in…
- Autism & Sleep: An Interview With An Expert
- How Autism Spectrum Disorder Affects Sleep
- Tips to Help Your Child With Autism Sleep