Friday 24 February 2017

Tips for kids that struggle to sleep

child asleep

None of our children sleep great. Estimates say between 50% and 90% of autistic people have some sleeping difficulties, whether that's going to sleep, staying asleep or sleeping at the wrong time. We've had it all. Over the years we've seen a few specialists and received lots of advice for our boys who have ASD and ADHD. Though it didn't all work for us, there's lots that can be tried to help children many children feel calm, safe and ready for sleep.

The first step is to establish a good bedtime routine. Many people with autism and ADHD can find routines helpful. We have established a routine that happens every night that gives the boys notice of their bedtime, helps them calm their senses and creates an environment to help them be ready for sleep.  This includes going upstairs, having a bath, then low lighting, a story, hugs and night lights.

If you have established a good routine and there is still some difficulty, the first things to try are easy adaptions to it. Bringing bedtime forward or back, taking away a story if it excites instead of relaxes the children or remove a night light if you think it's stimulating their minds.

Here are some suggestions to help calm and create a sleep environment:
  • No blue light in the evenings can help with their bodies natural production of melatonin to bring on the onset of sleep. For us this was hard work given the boys obsessions with TV, iPads and games. So we put these away as part of our routine about an hour before bed
  • Adding calming smells to the bath or bedroom. Some people with autism have a heightened sense and enjoyment of smells. A relaxing scent such as lavender can help but should be used carefully. We've used B Organic Skincare baby and kids shampoo and body wash with lavender.  It's delicately scented and very gentle, leaving the children's hair and skin soft and ready for bed.
  • A weighted blanket or heavy blankets can provide a feeling of calm pressure for sensory seekers. Others are sensory sensitive and need clothes that are seam free or without tags and covers are light and loose.  Treat any dry skin before going to bed to avoid scratching in the night. We've used the B Organic Skincare soothing balm which also has lavender and chamomile to calm the skin and senses. 
  • No lights and black-out curtains to create a dark room. Some people with autism can be very sensitive to light and even a small night light or the sunlight through curtains can be enough to disrupt their sleep. Others need light to help them feel safe and calm. Some autistic people can find true darkness extremely frightening so we use a night light. We use a mains powered one so it can stay on all night - we don’t want to change the environment that the child went to sleep in.  A child will wake several times a night but they don't notice because they go straight back to sleep.  However when their environment seems different this can notice and this wakes them properly instead of just drifting back off again. 
  • Removing distractions works for others. Our younger son needs bare walls and simple furnishings so he it's not distracted. 
I’m afraid it’s mostly trial and error, but it's worth noting that these things should ideally be trialled over a few weeks to establish them as part of a routine. If after trying these types of things there is still difficulty in sleeping then your GP or Paediatrician can offer further advice or refer your child to a sleep specialist or sleep clinic.  We've managed to definitely improved our kids sleeping over the years and still use several of the techniques above to help them.

If you have any tips, we'd love to hear them.

A version of this post was shared with Scope.
B Organic Skincare sent us some products to try from their children's range. As always any products in our posts are reviewed honestly and independently and we only include them when we think they are great.


  1. Fab tips! Our bedtime routine is pretty much the same. Calming down close to bedtime, a nice bath, PJ's on, and a bedtime story before sleep. We have an led night light that we leave on through the night. It's a perfect comforter for the boys. You can change the colour, adjust the brightness and so on.

    Thanks so much for joining in with #MMBC. Lovely to have you back x

  2. Great post! #brilliantblogposts pam lorimer xx

  3. Great tips. Thanks for sharing. I'm am huge fan of routine.

  4. Interesting how you mention about no blue light given that the sleep clock we have, does indeed have a blue light. A sleep practitioner recently told me about this and said that if you were to have a light it should be red and someone needs to change the clocks!! Thinking about lighting my house up red ;-) I have tried most things but now accept it really is what it is #ablogginggoodtime

  5. This is a really interesting post, thank you. My son is only two and a half but he already sees a plethora of therapists etc in conjunction with his autistic tendencies (although at such a young age they aren't diagnosing yet...) and we are just starting to see problems with his sleeping... he has always had a strong routine and he goes down ok its just he wakes during the night just once and demands h comes into our bed... its either that or he will cry and cry until he falls asleep behind his stairgate. <3 #brilliantblogposts

  6. Great tips which would benefit children and adults alike. One tip I would like to add is Classic FM on low volume. It's lulled my son off to sleep many times and I swear by it. :)

  7. Brilliant tips and advice. I can really see how these would all help. I did some sleep therapy training a while ago and they pointed out that we should all ensure that we wake up in the same environment that we fell asleep in (so no putting the TV on 'sleep' etc or lights going off as you pointed out) as the brain tends to briefly search it's environment between sleep cycles every few hours and any changes can cause us to become alert and wake up. Great post lovely. Thanks for sharing with #DreamTeam x

  8. These are interesting and useful tips. I particularly had not considered the bits about weighted blankets and smells. Good tips for anyone who would like a better night's sleep, I would think. Thanks for linking to #eatsleepblogrt. I hope you can join again next week.

  9. My offer of a book on sleep still stands! #SpectrumSunday

  10. These are all great tips. I particularly love calming scents. I have an essential oil diffuser (one that uses a fan rather than heat or water, so it can be used without supervision) that I turn on for a bit before going to sleep. Then again, I find the fan makes a lot of noise, so I turn it off before I actually get to sleep. The lavender/chamomile balm sounds great. #spectrumsunday

  11. our daughter who is now 28 would only sleep with black out blinds and a strict routine of about 2 hours before bedtime some physical routine, a warm bath with scented bubbles, pjs, teeth brushing and into bed, where we would have to lie with her for up to an hour for her to settle, while the other one entertained the other children quietly down stairs so not to disturb her. #SpectrumSunday

  12. Ooo some great tips here thanks!
    Thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

  13. Great tips which I am sure will be really helpful to those kids who have trouble sleeping.

  14. Really interesting post. I guess i am lucky that my boy has just loved sleep from day one.. goes down at 7pm, doesn't wake til 6am. But there has certainly been th eodd night it isnt as plain sailing... i have heard the GroClock is the way forward too... #littleleaps

  15. The heavy blanket is a really good one, not one that I had considered. Hopefully your tips help someone out! #KCACOLS

  16. Very useful, especially the tip about blue light at bedtime, really interesting! x #KCACOLS

  17. I find it so hard to have a good sleep routine as each day is so different... But you have it all sorted out! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

  18. I would definitely agree with the black out blinds! A must in our house! #LittleLeaps


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