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!

These are awesome sleep tips! My autistic son has always had trouble sleeping, but these tips have really improved his sleep! There are some great suggestions for better sleep for autistic kids, and kids with other sensory issues.

#7 and #9 did it for us! These sleep tips actually work, and I can finally get a good night's sleep, since my little ones are sleeping better! Autism causes some major sleep issues, but these hacks definitely work.

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.

*This article contains affiliate links. I may make a small commission from any purchases you make through these links, at no additional cost to you. But don’t worry, I only recommend products that I absolutely love!

1) Magnesium

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.

10) Melatonin

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.

13) Chiropractor

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.

14) Cozyphones

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.

Nighty Night!

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!

 

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22 Comments

Cayla · May 16, 2018 at 3:51 pm

This article is so helpful and informative. Getting a baby/child to sleep is key to a parent’s sanity! Thank you for sharing.

    Spectrum Sense · May 16, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks, Cayla! You’re so right…without sleep, sanity pretty much goes out the window!

Amy @ Orison Orchards · May 16, 2018 at 7:21 pm

These are great tips for all types of kids! My sister swears by melatonin for her daughter, and magnesium and essential oils really help my kids. Thanks for such a fantastic list — I’m pinning it for reference.

    Spectrum Sense · May 16, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks, Amy! It’s great to hear feedback from other moms, to find out what works for them! Magnesium and EO’s are daily necessities around here!

Angel · May 17, 2018 at 11:37 am

I’m so glad that I found this post. Some of these I have tried but others, I haven’t. My 3 year old is still kind of a rough sleeper and it makes it really hard for all of us when he hasn’t had a good night. THANK YOU for sharing! I’m starting more of these ASAP.

    Spectrum Sense · May 17, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Thanks, Angel! I know exactly what you mean…everyone suffers when the kiddos don’t sleep well! I hope you’ve found the perfect sleep solution here!

yasmina · May 17, 2018 at 1:15 pm

Very interesting article with useful tips!!! Thank you

    Spectrum Sense · May 17, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Sure, Yasmin’s! Just doing my part!

susie liberatore · May 17, 2018 at 2:42 pm

wow I never knew about a lot of these. I needed this post! My son has autism and we are always looking for blogs and tools, thanks for sharing.

    Spectrum Sense · May 17, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    You bet, Susie! There will be plenty more helpful posts to come, so keep coming back!

Samantha · May 17, 2018 at 7:09 pm

We love Cozy Phones! I’ve never used them bed, but I could see how they could be helpful. These are some great tips.

    Spectrum Sense · May 17, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks, Samantha! Yes, Cozyphones are great! They help drown out the unwanted noises and replace them with gentle music or nature sounds instead, to help relax your child for sleep! Try it!

Hillary · May 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm

My son has a lot of sleep problems, but only lately. I’m going to try magnesium because that really helps me. I think my sleep problems are passed down from my dad, and I’m pretty sure my son inherited mine 😞 Thanks for the tips.

    Spectrum Sense · May 20, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Ugh! I’m sorry, Hillary! Unfortunately we pass some unwanted things to our children. It sounds like you may have found a good solution though…I hope magnesium helps your son as much as it helps you! But since his sleep issues only recently started, you may want to check to make sure there is not some underlying cause, like a change in diet, friends, school, stress level, etc. Hopefully it’s transient.

Lisa · May 23, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Great ideas! My oldest son has so much trouble with sleep because of his Angelman Syndrome, and it took a long time to trial different strategies and techniques. The best combination for him has been melatonin plus a low-dose sleep med plus an enclosed bed so I don’t have to worry about him getting out and about in the middle of the night when he wakes up. It’s amazing how each kid is different. So don’t give up if something isn’t working!

    Spectrum Sense · May 23, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for that additional tip, Lisa! An enclosed bed is a good way to help you sleep soundly, knowing your son is safe! And for those with more severe sleep issues, of course a prescribed sleep medication can be used after exhausting other techniques like you did. Good work, mama!

Katie · May 24, 2018 at 2:16 am

What a great list with a lot of things I’ve never heard of! I want to get my son a pair of those cozyphones’

    Spectrum Sense · May 24, 2018 at 4:27 am

    Seriously, the CozyPhones are the best!! They even have Paw Patrol ones!

jalisa · May 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

These are all great tips. I currently use Vetiver for my son who has ADHD and works well.

    Spectrum Sense · May 25, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Thanks, Jalisa! Yes, vetiver is super for focus too, so perfect for ADHD!

Deirdre J. @ WalkinGratitude.com · May 24, 2018 at 2:23 pm

These are some great tips. I’ve implemented several with my own son. However, I’ve found a few new ones that I’ll be trying out as well. Thanks!

    Spectrum Sense · May 25, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Thanks, Deirdre! I’m glad you’ve found some that work for your son already. It’s nice to have a backup plan too!

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