15 Sleep Tips for Kids with Autism
Did you ever think that if you could just get through the newborn phase, you would be able to enjoy long, deep sleep again? Like, all night long? Yeah, me too. I was told that the constant waking was just a phase. But when it hadn’t stopped after a year, I started Googling “sleep tips for kids,” desperate for answers.
The internet wasn’t giving me the helpful tips I was looking for, but I also didn’t realize my boys were autistic at the time – that obviously made a difference! Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of trial and error, along with research, to figure out how to get little people to sleep. These sleep tips for autistic kids are also effective on neurotypical children, so feel free to share them with other moms you know!
Why do autistic children struggle to sleep?
It’s not as cut and dry as you would like it to be…then again, is anything in the autism world ever cut and dry?! There are so many reasons why kids on the spectrum struggle with sleep.
Anxiety is a big one. Many autistic kids battle anxiety, which can cause neurological disturbances that interfere with normal sleep patterns. It can make it difficult to fall asleep, and cause them to wake multiple times during the night.
Kids on the spectrum often deal with digestive upsets as well, such as GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease). If you think way back to your pregnancy, you may remember being awakened during the night with a burning hole in your upper gut. (If you don’t, you’re a lucky one!) Reflux and other digestive discomforts can really throw a monkey wrench into your child’s sleep.
Melatonin production is yet another thing that gets thrown a bit off course in autistic children. Their bodies don’t always produce melatonin in the correct quantities, or at appropriate times, which can destroy the body’s desire and ability to sleep.
These are just a few of the most common reasons for sleep disturbances, but the list goes on. Research and sleep studies are being performed to try to offer a better understanding of sleep issues for kids with sensory issues and autism. In the meantime, try these super helpful sleep tips, and let me know which ones work for you!
15 ways to help your child sleep better
Every child is different, so the sleep solution that worked like a dream (lol) for your best friend isn’t necessarily going to be the answer to your kid’s sleep disturbances. But don’t give up – there are plenty of safe options to try. Just be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician before starting a new supplement, especially if they are currently on medications. These sleep tips are generally considered safe for most children.
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This is at the top of my list (although the others are in no particular order) because it is one of my favorites. Magnesium plays a huge role in relaxing the body and allowing it to get ready for sleep. It comes in many forms, and they are all pretty effective.
We use a magnesium powder that is dissolved in water about an hour before bedtime. It comes in many flavors (watermelon is the BEST!), but also comes in a flavorless form, for those who have to sneak it into apple juice. 😉 The bottle lists the adult dose, so ask your family physician or chiropractor to verify the correct amount for your child. There is also a children’s form, but the adult one is more cost effective.
Magnesium comes in many forms besides the powder. You can try these yummy magnesium gummies, or a roll-on oil. A magnesium bath is not only great for relaxation, but also detoxes the body at the same time. You can even try rubbing magnesium lotion onto your child before bedtime. Try this great DIY magnesium lotion recipe, if you’re looking for a cheap solution.
Helpful hint: Taking magnesium orally loosens the stool. If your child struggles with constipation, this can be a double blessing. But if he or she already has loose stools, you may want to try a non-oral form, to avoid the digestive side effects.
2) Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a well known calming herb. I still drink Sleepy Time tea before bed, and have for years! The other ingredients in it may or may not be the best for children, so I just use plain chamomile tea for my boys. I steep one bag in about 3-4 oz of hot water for 10 minutes, then add 4 oz of apple juice. This makes it just sweet enough, and covers up the taste pretty well.
3) Valerian Root
Another helpful herb is Valerian root. This is an effective sleep solution for some children, and comes in a convenient dropper bottle. Don’t worry – this one doesn’t taste like Valerian root smells; it’s actually really sweet, so your child will likely think it’s candy!
4) A Bedtime Routine
One of the most crucial sleep tips for autistic kids is having the exact same bedtime routine every night. This is helpful for neurotypical kids as well, but children on the spectrum thrive with schedules even more so. Make sure your child is going to bed at the same time each night, and that your bedtime routine leading up to that is predictable. This not only helps the body to know when to fall asleep, but also gives your child a sense of security.
5) Stress Relief
Since many children on the spectrum deal with anxiety, stress relief before bedtime can make a huge difference in how well they sleep. Try keeping the stress level as low as possible for 1-2 hours before bedtime. There are plenty of stress reducing activities that you can do with your child, such as stretching, brushing, and deep pressure therapy. You can also try Rescue Remedy, which comes in an oral and spray form, and works wonders for stress relief.
6) Cherry Gummies
Who would have thought? Tart cherry juice can actually put you to sleep! It is a natural source of melatonin, and it tastes good too. If your child doesn’t like to drink juice, try this cherry gummy recipe, which they will be sure to love!
7) Scripture Lullabies
If your child is suffering from night terrors or anxiety, try playing Scripture Lullabies through the night. This has made such a huge difference in my boys’ sleep! (Should I admit that I listen to them during the day too?!) These are such calming melodies, with Scripture songs, and I simply cannot recommend them enough. If you want to give it a try, you can download a few songs for free!
8) Essential Oils
All the hype about essential oils is simply because they really work! Essential oils are super effective for anything from stress relief to killing bacteria. Try using some calming oil blends before bedtime, or through the night, to help your child relax. Some of my favorite essential oils for sleep are ylang ylang, lavender, patchouli, sweet orange, Roman chamomile, vetiver, and bergamot. Only use high quality essential oils, or you could create new problems with contaminants.
9) The Right Pillow
The key to better sleep could be as simple as getting the right pillow. This is especially true for children with autism and other sensory integration disorders. If the material of your child’s pillow or pillow case is not comfortable to them, it can cause them to wake. Remember, sensory upsets are exaggerated for kids on the spectrum. Something that may not seem noticeable to us may feel like sandpaper on their face while they sleep.
Try a different material or firmness, and see if this helps improve your child’s sleep. Yogibo is officially my favorite! They make bean bag chairs as well, but their pillows are amazing, and they are all designed specifically to produce zero pressure points. The stretchy material is cooling and soft, and will definitely eliminate discomfort during sleep.
I don’t usually recommend melatonin unless other natural supplements have failed. Melatonin definitely does the trick for most children, but it can also cause nightmares. If you are at a loss with your child’s sleep issues, this may be the answer for you, but don’t use this as a first resort. Melatonin gummies are a good sleep solution for autistic children who do not respond to other treatments.
11) A Cool Environment
Did you know that lowering the body’s temperature can help trigger your body to get sleepy? (You learn something new every day!) It’s true. So try keeping your kids cool before bedtime. A warm bath is soothing, but don’t bundle them up afterwards. Let their body cool down a bit. You may want to lower the thermostat a couple degrees for an hour before bed, and see if this helps.
12) Vitamins B and D
Vitamins B and D are essential for proper energy production. If your body does not receive enough of these nutrients, you will feel fatigued during the day, which can affect your sleep patterns. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about their vitamin levels. They may simply need to supplement with Vitamin D and Vitamin B to get a good night’s sleep. If this is the case, please realize that it may take a couple weeks to see improvement, as their body adjusts to the vitamin levels. Check out these gummies that include both B-12 and D-3.
Chiropractors are great for countless reasons. And believe it or not, they can even help with sleep issues. Many autistic children actually benefit in several ways, because regular visits to the chiropractor can help with digestive upsets, behavior issues, and sleep disturbances. If other options aren’t working, give the chiropractor an honest shot.
If you haven’t seen these yet, check them out! They are adorable! Cozyphones are a comfy way to listen to calming music at bedtime. They have a super soft headband, and tiny sound buds to produce soft music. Play your child’s favorite relaxing melodies or nature sounds through their Cozyphones at night, and see if this improves their sleep.
15) Himalayan Salt Lamp
Most night lights emit some form of blue light, which can interfere with sleep. Try using a himalayan salt lamp instead, which emits orange and yellow light. These lamps can also help induce sleep, and reduce ailments, by emitting negative ions.
Don’t feel discouraged if you try one or two options and they aren’t successful. All kids are different, and children on the spectrum can be immune to a lot of therapies that work for neurotypicals. If one sleep tip doesn’t work, just try another until you find the right solution for your child to get a better night’s sleep.
Did I leave something out? What works for your child? Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you!