Autism and Sleep: Establishing a sleep routine

This is the first in a series of posts that can help your kids sleep better. Today’s post will deal with “sleep hygiene” and how you can organize your child’s sleeping environment and sleeping habits to help them sleep better. It is important to know that good sleep hygiene causes physiological changes, which cause independent sleep, but the results aren’t always immediate. You will usually pick the fruit after 3 weeks.

Organization of the bedroom

  • Starting from the environment. The bedroom should be comfortable and tailored to your child’s needs.
  • The room itself should be quiet and dark. Does the light come into the room due to headlights running at night or sunlight at sunrise bother your child? Is there a shutter or window that makes knocking noises? Consider adding heavier curtains to cover the windows.
  • Try to find your comfortable temperature, neither too cold nor too hot.
  • Some children with autism are sensitive to the textures of bedding or the feeling of pajamas on their skin. Does your child prefer loose or tight pajamas? Does the fabric of the sheet bother him? A sense of discomfort caused by this can make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
  • The room should be quiet. Avoid activating any screen. For some children, a constant quiet white noise in the background (like a ceiling fan or air filter) or music can help them fall asleep. Other children can be bothered and disturbed by such noise. In general, you should also make sure that there is no loud noise from siblings or a TV from the rooms near the child’s bedroom.

Establish a regular and adapted “sleep-routine”

  • Before the end of the day, we want to prepare our children’s bodies and minds for sleep. To do this, we need to establish good sleeping habits. Or, in other words – “routine”. A sleep-routine is an order of actions that we perform with our children, repeated predictably and regularly every evening. How to build a good and tailored routine?
  •  The routine should be relatively short, between 15 and 40 minutes. A study showed that after 3 weeks of such a routine, the brain waves were more ready for sleep at bedtime. The routine should gradually include dimmer lights (not a screen or a bright room with a mirror), quieter sounds, and getting closer to the room.
  • Even before you start the routine – the time before going to bed should begin the relaxation process. It is best to avoid activities that include screens, loud music, bright lights, running, jumping, and rampage at this time.
  • The routine itself consists of activities that are suitable to do in the evening before bed. These can include – dinner, bath, brushing teeth, playing a board game, applying a cream, a bedtime story, listening to calm music. Note that you routinely choose only activities that are relaxing (and not stimulating) for your children. For example, some children get very excited and rampage during bath-time. It may be better for these kids to take a bath earlier in the evening and not incorporate it into their sleep-routine. If your child does not like to do things, such as brushing teeth, try to do them as early as possible. At the end of the routine, leave something that your children especially like, for example, a bedtime massage.
  • The routine should be performed in the bedroom environment (e.g., bath and brushing teeth) and in the bedroom itself.
  • Visual calendar: Children with autism can contribute from a visual calendar that illustrates the sleep routine. It can be a schedule with pictures for younger children, and for older children, it is sometimes enough from the “TO DO” list. This list reminds them of the various steps, increases understanding, and reduces anxiety. It can also help other caregivers who come from time to time to maintain a routine. If your child does not respond to pictures, you can use objects that represent each of the actions as a visual calendar. For a child in higher development, it is possible to draw or write things that happened during the day and lay them down to rest until tomorrow in a box in another piece of furniture.

More tips

  • As challenging as it is, try to stick to a regular bedtime throughout the week. Note that you are choosing the right time. If your child usually falls asleep at 22:00, there is no point in putting him to bed at 21:00. Put him to bed at 22:00 and every 4 days, bring him to bed 10 minutes earlier so that he can gradually synchronize his biological clock. If you manage to put him to bed around the time he falls asleep, he will fall asleep faster and get up less often at night.
  • When it comes to naps, if your child is still small and sleeps at noon, try to have his nap at a fixed time and when possible, in his bedroom. Wake your child up by 3pm, otherwise, it can make it difficult for them to fall asleep in the evening. If your child is already big and does not need a nap, try to avoid it unless your child is not feeling well.
  • Avoid tea, coffee, cola, and chocolate after 3pm.
  • Try to do exercise that makes him sweat and blush every day. Better 20 minutes and before 5pm.

This is for today – in the coming weeks, we will publish the additional posts on the subject, which are no less important: boundaries around sleep, encouraging independent sleep, and coordinating expectations!

Back to The Complete Guide for Helping Your Autistic Child Sleep Problems.