How to Combat Insomnia in Autistic Children: Tips for Insomnia
How can you combat insomnia in autistic children? It may be difficult to improve sleep quality in autistic children, because neurochemical factors, stress, anxiety, and poor sleep habits are all possible causes of insomnia in autistic children. Even though many children have problems sleeping, like wetting the bed or waking up in the middle of the night, we have to keep in mind that stress can affect children with autism when they’re getting ready for bed, which is why they’re more affected by this sleep disorder.
If you have an autistic child, you’ve probably seen this before when getting ready for bed: anger, wanting to only sleep with the things they choose (pajamas, blankets, stuffed animals…), or not sleeping until they’ve completed a routine.
In order for the autistic child to sleep better, try to create healthy sleep habits from when they are very young. We can try to change the environment (leaving the living room), how to talk to them, and how to explain to them that it’s time to go to bed.
Why Autistic Children Need Rest
A well-rested child is able to pay attention and learn better. They are also more social, happier, and are more emotionally stable, factors which are necessary for an autistic child. Young children need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep daily, but autistic children may need even more.
Getting enough sleep can improve your immune system and help keep you healthy. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body has a harder time functioning which may ultimately lead to serious problems. Autistic children may suffer from insomnia on a regular basis, but in theory it’s not related to chronic insomnia, or fatal insomnia, so you don’t have to worry too much.
Regularly suffering from insomnia may cause stress and be dangerous for children with autism, which is why you should see a specialist if your child has insomnia. Besides discarding serious pathologies, they may also be able to give you some suggestions to combat insomnia in children in autistic children.
Strategies to Help an Autistic Child Fall Asleep
Create a routine for the child to follow: Children with autism have a hard time with anticipation being flexible, so they need to feel safe and feel like they know what’s going to happen. This will be much easier if they follow the same routine before sleeping every night. For example, turn off the TV, take a shower, put on pajamas, eat dinner… after doing this, when they’re ready to go to sleep, you can add some kind of relaxing activity, like reading a book or singing something.
Use visual aids: use pictures to show that the bed is where we sleep. Show them images of children sleeping in their bed so that they learn that the bed is a place to sleep, not to play, eat, or watch TV.
Adapt the room to the child’s needs: autistic children may be overly sensitive to stimuli like lights, colors, or some sounds that may be distracting when they’re trying to fall asleep. Try to keep these kinds of things out of their room.
Make bedtime positive: make the child see that going to sleep is a good thing, make it something happy and calming. Be patient and kind.
Find out the underlying cause: if the insomnia persists after having tried everything, ask your child if there’s something preventing him from sleeping. In this blog about insomnia in the first trimester of pregnancy, you’ll see a list of recommendations that can help you relax and can be applied to children with autism.
If the insomnia gets worse or doesn’t subside, see a specialist.
Molly is a writer specialized in health and psychology. She is passionate about neuroscience and how the brain works, and is constantly looking for new content from interesting sources. Molly is happy to give or take advice, and is always working to educate and inspire.
This post is also available in: Spanish