Three Sleep Tips for Children with Autism

4/22/2020 By Sydney LaFleur, BCBA

For many kids with autism, getting to sleep—and staying asleep—can be an ongoing challenge. But good sleep hygiene is incredibly important. Insufficient or poor sleep can make daily life much more difficult and result in learning struggles, hyperactivity, inattention and other behavioral issues.

If sound sleep is a challenge for your child, there are a few easy steps you can take to support your child’s sleep ritual and help them get the rest they need.

1. Determine the right amount of sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends targeting a certain number of hours of sleep per day to promote optimal health, depending on your child’s age.

  • Infants 4–12 months old should sleep 12–16 hours, including naps.
  • Children 1–2 years old should sleep 11–14 hours, including naps.
  • Children 3–5 years old should sleep 10–13 hours, including naps.
  • Children 6–12 years old should sleep 9–12 hours.
  • Teenagers 13–18 years old should sleep 8–10 hours.

Remember that these estimates are entirely dependent on your child’s individual and unique needs.

2. Create a consistent bedtime routine.

Your child’s bedtime ritual should stay consistent and predictable so they can adjust and anticipate what will happen. To help structure a day-to-night schedule, create a multi-step routine that includes activities your child enjoys for at least 20 minutes or so before bedtime.

When choosing activities, keep in mind that we want the sleep environment to stay consistent from dusk to dawn. This way, if your child wakes up in the middle of the night, nothing will be different and they’ll be more likely to fall back to sleep on their own.

A few examples of pre-bed activities might include:

  • Social interaction between yourself and your child—try encouraging a fun Q&A time
  • A relaxing activity, such as storytime or quiet interaction, to help them wind down
  • A clean-up routine to signal that toys are off-limits until morning

3. Rise and shine!

It’s also important to consider wake-up times. Once again, consistency is key—don’t let your child sleep past the desired time, as this can lead to greater difficulties in maintaining the routine.

We all know that good sleep can be elusive, but by establishing routines and staying consistent with them over time, you can help your child establish good sleep habits. Once your child has adjusted to consistent bedtime and morning rituals, you’ll notice many positive benefits, including increased focus, better mood and so much more!

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