“Help! How Can I Get My Autistic Child to Relax at Bedtime?” We hear you. Getting kids to sleep soundly is one of the most exhausting challenges of parenthood. Luckily for parents, Cloud b is on a mission to help through all stages of development. Our #CloudbCares Q&A series offers expert recommendations, as well as advice from our community of moms to help solve your real family sleep issues – typically, issues most parents have to navigate. Here’s our latest: Sherrie asks, “My daughter has severe ADHD & is on the Autism spectrum. Her energy is endless so sometimes getting her relaxed enough at night time for bedtime is a true struggle.”
Here’s what parents from our Facebook community had to say:
- Jen – Another vote for melatonin. My son has ASD and ADHD and we tried it all. 2mg of melatonin 30 minutes prior to bedtime and he’s relaxed and ready for sleep.
- Bonnie – Yes. I’m on the melatonin bandwagon! That and a very exact routine. The same steps in the same order really seems to relieve anxiety for my son. Melatonin. Half an hour later we start the routine. Brush teeth, jammies, prayers, a story and tuck in, with a weighted blanket on top.
- Wendy – My daughter has Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder and my son ASD they take melatonin to help calm them to fall asleep. It’s natural, ask your pediatrician how much to give. Also, I have tried, music, essential oils, lavender, weighted blanket, baths, trampoline, swing, rocking, lotion massage, brushing, yoga, night lights, no red dye, reading, fidget toys. Only thing that has calmed them is melatonin. I get the ones that melt under the tongue. Good luck.
- Brandy – Weather pending I’d take her outside to play after supper then a bath start dimming lights & turning down volume/sounds around the house. If weather is bad, see if a local mall or business has an indoor play area. Yoga may also be a good option you could make it a mommy and me or family wind down from our day thing. & Tell her “It’s time to slow down” or “Its time to rest” etc. I’m sure you already know,but I like to remind parents to stay consistent & be patient changes don’t happen overnight. Hope this helps.
- Amy – Probiotics are great and help with all of it. I would also look into essential oils and melatonin supplements.
- Gaye – After bath time and maybe a warm drink, settle down in a comfy chair or in bed and read for awhile. Make sure there aren’t other distractions like tv.
- Silvia – Same routine every evening so it becomes predictable, and she knows it’s time for bed. Deep pressure massage, or weighted blanket if that soothes her. Blackout curtains, noise machine, cool bedroom. Good luck!
- Rebecca – DREAMTIME BUDDY from Naturally Yours. In a Chapstick tube vtherbalgifts.com. Then we went to Badger Sleep Balm (lavender and Bergamot). We picked it up at our local Co-op. Badgercalm.com. My youngest son was always very difficult to get to sleep and we used these. I also got him outside and running around and playing as much as possible to wear him out. Is there a sport you can get the child in? My middle son just started karate and goes two nights a week. Maybe swimming; if you can take your child to the pool for an hour every or most nights. Lavender bed spray may also work. I’m sorry I wish I had more. Best wishes
- Jennifer – Lavender scented epsom salt bath, then use the Bath & Body Night time soap to wash with and then lotion followed by melatonin, brush teeth, a 20 minute story in bed, and hopefully out cold. You’re supposed to read AT LEAST 15 minutes a day to your kid anyways, so put it in the bedtime routine.
- Lauren – Have you tried using a weighted blanket?
- Kelsey – Are artificial dyes removed from her diet? If not try that for daily management. However, calcium supplements work for calming.
- Amanda – Some of my friends use special sheets that make it more comfortable for their autistic kids.
- Erica – My son also has the same issues. His favorite thing to do was to spin in a spinning chair or swing. We learned it in Occupational therapy. It worked wonders! I also watched what he ate. Very little sugar, no nitrates or food colorings. He was very sensitive to them and it would make his ADHD symptoms more pronounced. He’s 16 now and he’s doing great. Good luck!!!
- Marisol – Melatonin….you can also use neuro water the ‘sleep’ one..approved by my child’s pediatrician as safe..I give it to my boy because he is picky about what he tastes, and the water comes in 2 flavors (tangerine orange, and mango I think)..this water has been a god send! My boy will be 6 in August and is close to 50 Lbs. He only needs a lil over half a bottle and nighty night lights out! I save the rest for the next night.
- Ariel – Melatonin did not work for me personally, but my kiddo is SPD/ADHD suspected and never sits for more than a few bites of lunch. I have to run him down energy wise, let him attempt to do something mentally draining for a bit, and always keep routine. I tell him he doesn’t have to go to sleep but he does need to be in bed and quiet. He’s 4.5
- Jessica – Go to the park or play outside and let her run around. Then a warm bath or shower. Tonight I took the kids to the park with me to run and my daughter played soccer and played on the different playgrounds. Then she got in the shower with me followed by quiet time with no TV and then she went right to bed.
- Kassia – My son has both as well. He takes clondine an hr before bed. It helps him fall asleep.
- BriAnna – Do you use essential oils? Diffusing peace and calming and lavender oil may help.
- Janice – Essential oils, namely lavender. Massage on feet….use with a carrier oil.
- Shannon – We start bed time well in advance, first by sitting downstairs reading then tub
- Crystal – I have two and the both take clonodine and melitonin. At night
- Kristy – Weighted blanket!! They are very calming.
- Vicki – Time release melatonin helps us.
- Terry – Evening walk then bath?
Here’s what Carin Lamm, MD had to say:
Many potential reasons exist for poor sleep in children with ASD, including neurological, behavioral, and medical issues. Some early research studies indicate possible abnormalities in brain systems that regulate sleep. Studies are underway in children with ASD evaluating levels of hormones such as melatonin and other chemicals released by the brain known to affect sleep. Behavioral issues such as poor sleep hygiene and limit-setting problems can contribute to insomnia. In addition, medical issues more common in children with ASD such as epilepsy or gastroesophageal reflux can disrupt sleep. Sometimes medications your child might be taking can be alerting and contribute to difficulty falling asleep. Psychiatric issues frequently associated with ASD such as anxiety and/or depression can interfere with sleep. Finally sleep disorders common in the general population such as sleep apnea, sleepwalking, nightmares, restless legs syndrome may impact sleep.
Fortunately, there are several ways parents can improve a child’s sleep. First discuss your child’s sleep with your health care professional. It can be helpful to know the amount of sleep your child needs. For example the National Sleep Foundation recommends for preschool children (11-13 hrs), school age children (10 -11 hrs) and for adolescents (9 ¼ hrs). (sleepfoundation.org)
Establishing good sleep hygiene by addressing the following domains is a good first step.
- Sleep environment: the bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool. As children with ASD might be particularly sensitive to noises and/or have sensory issues, the environment should be adapted to make sure your child is as comfortable as possible.
- Bedtime routine: the routine should be predictable, relatively short (20 – 30 minutes) and include relaxing activities such as reading or listening to quiet music. Avoid the use of electronics close to bedtime such as TV, computer, video games etc. that can be stimulating making it difficult for your child to fall asleep.
- Sleep\wake schedule: the schedule should be regular with not much of a difference between the weekday and weekend schedule.
- Teach your child to fall asleep alone: It is important that your child learn the skill of falling asleep without a parent present. All children and adults wake briefly during the night but quickly put themselves back to sleep by reestablishing associations used at bedtime. So if your child needs a parent present to fall asleep at bedtime, he might need a parent to help him fall back asleep during the normal awakenings.
- Exercise: Daytime exercise can make it easier to fall asleep and children who exercise tend to have deeper sleep. Avoid allowing your child to exercise too close to bedtime as it can make it difficult for him to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine particularly close to bedtime, which can be alerting making it difficult for your child to fall asleep. Caffeine is found not only in coffee, but also in tea, chocolate and some sodas.
- Naps are helpful for preschool children, but should not be taken late in the afternoon as they can interfere with bedtime.
It is important to address medical or psychiatric issues that potentially interfere with sleep. Your child’s medications might need adjustment if they affect his sleep. If your child suffers from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, sleep walking, sleep terrors, restless legs syndrome, he may need a referral to a sleep specialist. Some children with persistent insomnia will need further behavioral or pharmacological treatment to improve their sleep.
In summary, although sleep problems are common in children with ASD they often can be helped. Better sleep for these children can potentially improve their daytime functioning as well as the sleep of family members.
ATN/AIR-P Sleep Tool Kit-Parent Booklet and Quick Tips
This informational booklet is designed to provide parents with strategies to improve sleep in their child affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The suggestions in this tool kit are based on both research and clinical experience of sleep experts.