Children with autism juggle all sorts of challenges throughout their lives, and unfortunately, sleep is often one of them.
Pay close attention to what sort of activities interest your child and find time for them during the day. Exercise, melatonin, bedtime routines, and helpful resources like a Cubby bed, can all help with sleep disorders, which are very common among children with autism.
If you’re wondering how to put an autistic child to sleep and how to keep them appropriately stimulated during the day, look no further. In this article, we’ll break down how autism and sleep connect, how to address related concerns, and what options are available to assist your child.
How does autism affect sleep?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) plays a role in shaping many aspects of a child’s life, including the development of healthy sleep habits and routines.
It’s likely that a child with autism will manage some level of sleep challenges; in fact, an estimated 50-80% of children with autism experience at least one chronic sleep problem that impacts their ability to get the rest they need.
Just why individuals with autism tend to struggle with sleep is still unclear.
One hypothesized reason for the seeming connection between autism and sleep problems is the fact that autism can cause an individual to struggle with social cues, including those related to sleep.
This means children with autism may simply struggle to follow the routines that others do or understand when it’s time to settle down.
Children with autism also tend to have irregular levels of melatonin, a naturally-produced chemical in the brain responsible for helping an individual fall and stay asleep, when compared to others, which might also contribute to sleep issues.
Do autism symptoms increase when tired?
Frequent tiredness often amplifies existing challenges, making it more difficult for any child to function in the way they normally might.
Children with autism may notice that it’s more challenging to manage mood, behaviors, and routines when they’re not getting the quality sleep they need.
Chronic sleep problems, or those that frequently recur and do not go away on their own, might cause the following additional consequences for children with autism:
- Depression, sadness, or moodiness
- Aggression or frustration
- Lowered cognitive performance
- Hyperactivity or other behavioral concerns
- Learning difficulties
Why is my autistic child always tired?
The majority of children with autism manage sleep issues.
So if you find your child frequently appears drowsy, irritable, or otherwise struggling, it’s likely that some degree of sleep challenges are at play.
Your child may struggle to fall asleep, wake up multiple times throughout the night (thus disrupting their natural sleep cycle), experience nightmares, or experience other issues that make restful sleep feel impossible.
Many caregivers find that their autistic child wakes up too early, frequently wakes them up during the night, or struggles to stay in bed in general (for some with autism, sleeping on the floor or in other places may be a concern).
No matter what the cause of sleep issues is or how they manifest, frequent tiredness can make any child feel miserable. These occurrences are often particularly upsetting for children with autism who may feel as though the situation is outside their control or struggle to convey the magnitude of their frustration.
Is it possible to calm a child with autism?
It is indeed possible to calm a child with autism - that is, it’s entirely doable to come up with activities and routines that help a child with autism express energy in a healthy way and facilitate good sleep patterns.
A child frustrated or otherwise upset by a lack of sleep might benefit from a distraction - like their favorite storybook, for instance - to help refocus their attention away from emotion and toward the present moment.
Finding healthy ways to let go of these feelings is an important skill to work on preemptively with your child early on.
When it comes to calming a child in general, or reducing the amount of excess energy they have, incorporating exercise into their daily routine is a great first step.
Try to find activities that allow your child to expend energy in an enjoyable way, whether it be playing games of hide and seek, going for walks, playing in the yard, or even just completing a puzzle.
During active time, try to avoid any distractions that might disrupt your child. Remember, for children, play time is like their job, and it is extremely healthy for them to have time to focus and do what they enjoy.
Sleeping in the same place, at the same hour each night, can be life-changing.
A bedtime routine that involves bath time, pajamas, a bedtime story or a quiet chat about the events of the day, then bed time in a sensory calming place will help your child recognize when it’s time for sleep, and help their bodies know when to start producing melatonin.
A favorite for many families with a child with autism is a Cubby bed, which provides a canopy, sensory features, and padded interior.
Your child can learn to associate this place with sleep, and also feel safe while inside their tent bed.
You also may qualify for discounted prices or insurance coverage if you check here.
Activities to Tire an Autistic Child
Once you’ve decided to implement a day and nighttime routine to help your child sleep better, you’ll likely come to an important question: just how do you tire a child with autism?
Those seeking answers regarding how to tire out an autistic child or child with autism will likely benefit from some reflection. What sort of activities does your child tend to gravitate toward, and which ones tend to be most stimulating?
Games, outdoor exercise, arts and crafts, and more can all be both mentally and physically stimulating and thus begin to tire out a child. A good rule of thumb is to avoid technology whenever possible and seek out options that your child genuinely enjoys.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Complete a puzzle: choose a puzzle with fewer pieces for something easy and fun
- Take a walk
- Visit a park or playground
- Encourage your child to move their body in a fun way: dancing, singing, etc.
- Try out a new board game
- Invest in fidgeting tools and toys to help drain excess energy throughout the day
How do you put an autistic child to sleep?
Once your child has a better balance between active and rest time, you’ll likely find that they’re more physically willing to settle down for bed.
The challenge doesn’t end there, though, at least for many families; taking steps to ensure your child is comfortable in their bed and stays that way can be a real trial-and-error-type process.
Some good general tips are to dress your child comfortably (ensure they won’t get too hot or cold and that clothing isn’t too tight or irritating), surround them with objects that make them comfortable, and establish a consistent bedtime routine that signals it’s time to rest rather than move.
Sticking to a strict bedtime is also beneficial for many children.
Try to create an environment your child feels safe in, but also one they enjoy being in.
Avoid allowing your child to nap too late into the day, too, as this can make it much harder to fall asleep at an appropriate time later on.
How do you keep an autistic child in bed?
Nearly each and every one of us wakes up throughout the night, even if we don’t fully realize it.
This reality is true for children with autism, too, but they may struggle to get themselves back to sleep or decide to leave the bed instead.
This can be both disruptive to and concerning for other family members, especially if the child in question tends to wake others for help.
There are a few potential solutions for keeping your child in their own bed:
Your child may have learned that they need you to fall asleep. For example, if you rub your child’s back to help them fall asleep, they might become dependent upon this, so that when they wake up in the middle of the night, they cannot fall asleep again without you present to rub their back.
Try to train your child to fall asleep without you from the very beginning of the night. You can go through your nighttime routine with them, and help them calm down with reading or quiet conversation, then try to leave them in their bed with the lights out.
- A Cubby bed is a canopy bed tent with padded interior. You can also choose to include a safety lock that will prevent elopement by keeping your child inside the bed tent.
Ensure there is nothing that is sensorily bothersome in the child’s room. There may be a light or sound that does not bother you, but that is painful to your child with autism.
This is another area in which the Cubby bed can help, because it provides a sensory-controlled environment.
- Use monitors, like sound and movement monitors to check on your child instead of opening the door. If you come into the child’s room, or even if they hear you coming up the stairs, for example, they may recognize that you are still awake and become excited.
Learning how to fall and stay asleep or in bed without the presence of a caregiver is a skill that many children with autism learn and get better at over time, so consistency and patience are key.
Useful Tools: Cubby Bed and More
A big part of keeping your child safe and comfortable in bed is choosing a bed designed with these needs in mind.
That’s where the Cubby Bed comes into play.
Specifically created for children with special needs, the Cubby Bed prioritizes safety features (like a padded, enclosable canopy designed to protect), comfort, and accessibility via sensory features to help your loved one fall and stay asleep.
The bed features helpful functions including meditative breathing programs, temperature monitors, and circadian light to create an atmosphere that’s not just cozy, but helpful. With camera monitoring included as well, you can rest assured that your child is as secure as can be.
Investing in tools like the Cubby Bed can make your job as a caregiver much easier and much less worrisome.
Is melatonin good for autism?
Melatonin, though it occurs naturally in the body already, can also be purchased as a supplement.
It is indeed safe for long-term use (even for those with autism) and can actually help many children fall and stay asleep.
Using melatonin to help your child with autism sleep, especially in addition to other tools like the Cubby Bed, can be a recipe for success. When in doubt, always consult a doctor for specific instructions.
Tiring a child with autism and providing them with the tools to sleep soundly is no easy task, but it’s one that can indeed be done.
Taking the time to establish a routine that works for your child, incorporating exercise into their day, and choosing resources designed specifically for them, like the Cubby Bed, can all help your child be at their best.
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We want to accommodate and speak to all types of people with varying backgrounds and opinions. We are aware of the current debate in the mental health sphere between descriptor-first language, i.e. “an autistic person” vs. person-first language, i.e. “a person with autism.” Because many people have preferences either on one side or the other, we have chosen to accommodate both sides by using varying ways of describing people. With that being said, we are always learning. We hope to create a secure and welcoming online environment on our page, so if you have a preference regarding this language, please message us and we’d love to discuss further.
We conduct in depth research and consult with credentialed experts. Medicine is a constantly changing science and art and while we double check all facts, advice can vary. One doctor or therapist may have different opinions than others. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.