Many children with autism may have different sleep patterns from those of
others in the family. This means the whole household may have difficulty
sleeping which can make everyone tired and irritable. A child may have
problems getting to sleep or he may wake from time to time throughout the
night. The child may catch up on sleep during the day or may seem to need
much less sleep than others in the family.
Many children show behavioural problems during the day because of
tiredness and lack of sleep.
Often sleep problems can be sorted with behavioural interventions.
Sometimes even a small amount of change can make a big difference but
often, it is easier to ‘give in’ at night so that everyone can get back to sleep.
Children with autism often prefer predictable routines so it is a good idea to
make one at bedtime. Busy environments can also cause difficulties in
settling to sleep, especially for those with sensory issues. Many children are
excitable during the late evening because they are over-tired.
Children who need external pacifiers such as a dummy, TV or cuddles from
a parent are likely to wake in the night. They will find it difficult to resettle
without the pacifier.
HOW CAN I HELP?
- Set up a regular night time routine and stick to it. Start • ‘winding down’ at least an hour before bedtime. Baths, stories, milky drinks may help children to relax.
- TV, computer games, physical play should be avoided for at least an hour before bed.
- Make the bedroom as calm a place as possible. TV off, computer off, dim lights and reduce the noise level.
- Encourage your child to settle alone in their own bed. If you usually cuddle your child to sleep, gradually change this. Each night withdraw yourself a little more, sit next to the bed, then away from the bed, in the doorway, on the landing, etc. Repeat these steps if the child wakes in the night.
- Set clear rules: ‘you must stay in your own bed,’ ‘no TV after 7pm’.
- If you allow your child to sleep in your bed with you, it may make more problems long term.
- Encourage your child by using a reward chart.
Sleep Scotland have helpful advice for families.