Tips for healthy sleep for young autistic children
How much do we all love a good night’s sleep? Not only do we enjoy it, but it is also crucial to function effectively each day. Research shows that around two-thirds of children diagnosed with autism experience sleep difficulties at one point or another (Bealieu, Hanley, & Gin, 2013).
Sleep difficulties can present themselves in many ways. For example, the child:
- has difficulty falling asleep
- struggles to stay asleep
- can only fall asleep if co-sleeping
- is excessively sleepy during the day
- is reliant on a dummy to remain asleep
- wakes up too early and can’t resettle.
While sleep challenges pop up for all of us from time to time, prolonged lack of sleep can impact both the child’s and family’s functioning and mental health.
One of the most helpful strategies for helping young kids sleep well is routine. Here are five tips on how routine can be incorporated into healthy sleep patterns for you and your family.
- Ensure your child goes to bed at the same time every night.
- Make sure your child wakes up at the same time every morning.
- Have a consistent bedtime routine such as pj’s on, cuddles, and then lights out before getting into bed.
- Have a consistent response in how you respond if your child gets out of bed after you have said good night. Often, this can be redirecting your child back to bed after a quick hug or sip of water.
- Redirect your child back to their bed if they wake in the middle of the night. This can be a hard one, especially in the middle of winter!
Organisation is key
It is helpful to set aside three to four consecutive days and nights to establish the new habits and routines you would like your child to learn. Try and keep your calendar relatively empty for those few days, have meals ready to go, and a spare set of hands around to help with siblings, etc. This will make it easier to stick with the plan as you are likely to become a bit short on sleep through the process. It is important that you have time to catch up on your own sleep at some point during the day so you are re-energised and ready to keep going with the plan later that night.
Remember, change takes time
It may take a week or two for new sleep habits to form, but in the end, it is almost always worth it for both you and your child.
If you are looking for sleep tips for an older child (6-12 years), read our article Tips for healthy sleep for older autistic children.
Bealieu, L., Hanley, G., & Jin, C. (2013) An Individualised and Comprehensive Approach to Treating Sleep Problems in Young Children. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 46, 161-180
About the Author
Andrea Radcliffe is a Senior Behaviour Consultant and Family Services Mentor at Autism Partnership. She has worked in the field of contemporary behavioural analysis for over 20 years, spanning Australia, Canada and the USA. Andrea has completed a Diploma in Community Rehabilitation, holds a Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Counselling), and is a Tuning Into Kids Practitioner.
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