Autism and Sleep Deprivation

autism, help with sleep deprivation and sleep issue tipsIt’s fairly well known in the Autism Community that poor sleeping patterns can be part of the package. Up to 80% of households with a child or children on the autism spectrum report problems with sleep disturbances. Some of these issues include:

  • Challenges with winding down and getting prepared for bed
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Extreme sensitivity during sleep to noise and movements in the house
  • Waking up alert in the middle of the night
  • Poor overall sleep quality
  • Falling asleep too late
  • Waking up too early
  • Restlessness and anxiety before, during, and after sleep

There are several theories that provide some good indicators as to why those with autism experience greater sleep issues:

  1. Social queues and normal circadian rhythms (responding naturally to light and darkness within a 24-hour cycle) are many times not recognized or understood.
  2. In studies, it was shown that melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate sleep cycles, is often not on a regular cycle, causing more to be released during the day instead of at night which would promote better sleep.
  3. Increased sensitivity to outside stimuli can cause a child with autism to wake up abruptly to a parent peeking in their door to check on them, whereas most other children would not be disturbed from their sleep.
  4. Problems caused by allergies and food sensitivities are also known to disrupt normal sleep cycles.

Children with autism are reported to get up at least three times more frequently than those without autism. This can leave parents and other siblings just as sleep deprived.  Studies also show these types of patterns lead to even more stress, anxiety, and sleep-deprived nights for everyone in the household.

If your family falls into this category, there may be some very practical things you can do to improve the quality of sleep experienced by your child with autism. Documented studies show that when a child with autism develops good sleeping patterns, great improvements can be seen in behaviors related to:

  • Depression
  • Aptitude for Learning
  • Cognitive Abilities
  • Intuitive Social Skills
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Overall Behavioral Issues

Autism Speaks ( is another great resource for parents. They have developed several printable tools to help encourage better sleep patterns for your child or teen with autism.

Here are some great tips they suggest in their information-packed tools for parents.

  • Eliminate caffeine as much as possible. Caffeine stays in the body for 3 to 5 hours, and they can show signs of being effected by caffeine for up to 12 hours.
  • Start winding down one hour before bedtime by turning off stimuli like electronics, TV, and games.
  • Create a visual bedtime schedule your child will understand using line-drawn pictures, objects, a checklist, or photographs.
  • Do stimulating activities early in the day, and relaxing activities at the end of the day.
  • Create a Bedtime Pass the child can only use once each night, and if they still have their pass in the morning, they can exchange it for a small reward.
  • Go slow – try one small change first, then incorporate other changes at a reasonable rate. Remember to be patient, as it can take two weeks or more of faithful persistence before seeing a change.

Click these documents for the full downloads by Autism Speaks: Sleep Strategy – A Parent’s Guide, Quick Tips, and Sleep Strategies for Teens.

If you have any questions about sleep disturbances with your child or children please email us at

We would also love to have you share any of your success stories. Your tips may be really helpful for another family!

1 Comment

  1. Katherine Dilworth
    September 22, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge about Sleep Deprivation and Autism! I really enjoyed reading this article and It was very helpful to me.

Leave a Reply