Bedtime can be a stressful time for any parent - not many children want to stop fun activities and head off to sleep. However it is imperative to the growth and development of children that they do get adequate sleep, with the overall amount needed varying based on age, but it can be between ten and twelve hours a night.
This can be even more challenging to achieve with autistic children - with between 50% to 80% of autistic children experiencing sleep difficulties. Here, we will take a look at how to get an autistic child to sleep - no matter how difficult it might seem.
How to get an autistic child to sleep
Autistic people of all ages can experience trouble sleeping. This can be for a variety of factors, including increased anxiety, sensory issues that are exacerbated by their environment, and even having a naturally different circadian rhythm when compared to a neurotypical person. While autistic adults can seek out methods to help themselves to enjoy better sleep, for autistic children it is vital that parents take the lead - and seek help from a doctor where necessary.
Create a routine
Providing a solid and unchanging bedtime routine is something that many parents do for their younger children, such as giving them a bath and reading a bedtime story, but this can be harder with older children. You should still aim to create the same sense of routine by easing into low key and quiet play, such as reading a book together or colouring in for half an hour. It is important to do this at the same time every day, to make sure your child gets enough sleep overnight.
After this, you can take them to brush their teeth, change, use the bathroom and then settle them into bed. If your child frequently wakes, it is important to remain calm and soft-spoken as you settle them down again, indicating their routine to reinforce it.
Product: HD Bunk Bed Plus
Check for environmental factors
The environment that your child sleeps in should be restful rather than active. If they associate their bedroom with playing or being on an electronic device, this is unlikely to create the association that this is a place to rest. You should engage your child in creating a bedroom that is quiet, with low lighting and a good temperature - as well as removing anything too distracting.
Ensuring that they have a comfortable bed that can support them well is imperative to this and can involve working out exactly what kind of sleeper your child is. For example, a front or side sleeper will require a different mattress to a child who sleeps primarily on their back, and this can make all the difference to their comfort levels.
Develop a social story
Autistic children may not pick up on the social cues created by other family members getting ready for bed. You can create healthy and firm connections with sleep by developing a social story that explains the steps and timings of bedtime, using visual cues such as pictures of them sleeping in their bed, and giving them praise and rewards if they remain in bed and sleep well.
While generally used to model appropriate social behaviours, social stories can be a good visual way to indicate things like bedtime for autistic children. You can have a social story set up for the entire bedtime routine, too, with pictures to indicate quiet activity time in the evening, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, changing clothes, and settling into bed. Providing ticks or stickers to indicate completed steps can work well for children.
Product: Lewis Contract Mattress
Have an active day
Sometimes, an autistic child not being able to sleep or not wanting to sleep can be as simple as not getting enough activity during the day. Engaged physical activity is a good way to encourage healthier sleep, children who are school age should be active for many hours during the day, including energetic play. However, even something a little gentler can help, such as walking in the evening before you eat - getting outside to enjoy fresh air and natural sunlight can help to tire children and create a better sense of the rhythms of the day.
Eat at appropriate times
Something like when your child eats their meals can be very disruptive to their sleep, especially for autistic children who may experience increased food sensitivities and sensory issues. Try to make sure your child eats a good breakfast to wake up their body’s natural rhythms, and that dinner is not served too late so that they are satiated but not uncomfortably full when the sleep routine begins. Eating too much or too late can cause energy spikes, which is the last thing you want around bedtime.
Make time for winding down
In an increasingly digital world, you should make sure your child isn’t having too much screen time in the evening. You may not even realise how much they are watching TV or playing on a tablet, but the blue light emitted from screens can create sleep disruption. Limiting electronics, and also curbing your child’s consumption of sweets and fizzy drinks in the afternoon, can create more of a winding down than if they are playing an exciting game or consuming caffeine in the evening.
How Reinforced Beds can help
It can be challenging to know how to get an autistic child to sleep and making sure that their sleep space is a calming, positive and comfortable environment is especially important. With Reinforced Beds, you can make sure that your child has the heavy-duty beds/mattresses that they need to suit their sleeping style and sensory needs. Having a strong and supportive bed is essential, especially as your child grows, and our family-run business is on hand to help you find the perfect durable bed for your child, complete with free delivery.
Get in touch with us to discuss your specific needs and find out more about how a bespoke bed could help to support your child's bedtime routine.