Why does my child with Autism have difficulty sleeping?


Why does my child with Autism have difficulty sleeping?

It is thought that approximately half of children diagnosed with Autism have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep. However, it is not currently clear why people with Autism are more likely to have difficulties with sleep than their neurotypical peers.

Poor sleep can exacerbate undesirable behaviours the following day. For example, children with Autism who have had a poor sleep may display more repetitive behaviours, be more stressed or anxious, and have increased difficulty with attention, social interactions and overall communication. Parents may also experience increased fatigue, stress and anxiety.


What can I do at home if my child has difficulty sleeping?


  • Ensure the bedroom is the correct temperature for your child, and as light/dark as they want. i.e. consider block-out curtains if street light comes in, or a nightlight if the room is too dark.
  • Ensure the room is quiet. Noises such as a dishwasher going, the TV on, or sounds of other family members can disrupt sleep. Remember, some children with Autism are sensitive to sounds, so what may seem quiet and insignificant to you, may seem loud and distracting to your child. Note: some children find ‘white noise’ (low, consistent noises such as a fan going) relaxing.

  • Take note of sensitivity difficulties. Some children with Autism may have difficulties with some textures of pyjamas or bedding, or the weight of blankets which could disrupt sleep.


  • Establish a short routine for your child that starts before their scheduled bed time.

  • Time estimates for routine: 15 minutes for a 1 year old. The routine gets longer as the child ages, but should not exceed 60 minutes. e.g. if your 1 year old goes to sleep at 7pm, start their routine at 6.45pm.

  • The routine should include calming activities e.g.

    • Get into pyjamas

    • Brush teeth

    • Read a book

    • Kisses from mum and dad

    • Light off

  • Avoid activities and interactions that cause excitement and stimulation e.g. TV, loud music, bright lights, games, interactive books, jumping etc.

  • Determine what activities are relaxing for your child, and which ones stimulate them. Move activities that stimulate them to earlier in the evening, and not in their routine e.g. if bath time is an exciting activity, move it earlier so it is not a part of your bedtime routine.


What next?

Our team at Acorn Autism can support you with these and other bedtime strategies such as visual schedules, a ‘bedtime pass’, and helping your child sleep in their own room alone.

For information on helping your teen with their sleeping, contact Acorn Autism.

Note: Difficulties with sleep can indicate problems such as sleep apnea. Please consult your doctor to rule out medical difficulties that may be affecting sleep. The above information is not an exhaustive list of strategies, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and should not take the place of personal consultation, as appropriate, with a qualified professional.

Please contact Acorn Autism for more information.