J’s sleep is not good. It’s hard to get him to go over to sleep in the first place and then once he does he never sleeps all night. He can be up many times each night and it’s difficult to get him back over to sleep. He is also a very early riser. We have a bed time routine in place and we try our best to ensure calm in the lead up to bed time, a nice calm environment in his room and soothing lights which he likes. It doesn’t seem to help much. Difficulty with sleep can be a common problem for children on the autism spectrum. I have googled it many times and read a mountain of information about it. Some of the links I found more useful can be found at the bottom of the page.
My mum and I went along to a Sleep Scotland workshop which was set up to help parents learn a bit more about sleep and to offer some strategies to those who are struggling with their child’s sleep. Sleep Scotland is a charity which offers advice and counselling about sleep issues. They are very busy with a very long waiting list as their counsellors are volunteers who do it over and above their regular jobs/lives. I think the purpose of the workshop was to offer support to people who are still waiting on the list for one-to-one support.

The lady delivering the workshop was very good. She held interest and was very knowledgeable. The content covered some information about what sleep is, how much sleep we need at different ages, stages of sleep throughout the night, wellbeing, good bedtime practice and a good sleep environment. Some of the things discussed relate to what you do at night just before and during bedtime, but also things that take place during the day which can affect sleep at night. I have to say I found it very interesting, though many of the strategies are things we already do.

It turns out at J’s age he should get over 11 hours of sleep each night to support good brain development. With how long it takes him to get to sleep and the number of times he gets up each night there’s no way he gets anywhere near this. So what do we do? Limiting time spent on his iPad is one thing (not something I’m looking forward to doing right enough), the time he has supper as well as what he eats for this, no TV for an hour before bed, only quiet play in the lead up to bed time (e.g. Jigsaws) and leave them to settle to sleep alone. You decide on a bedtime routine and stick to this in the same order every night. It should start no longer than an hour before bedtime.

Our new bedtime routine:

  • Pjs on
  • Brush teeth
  • Go into bedroom, switch on nightlight, choose story and climb into bed
  • Kisses, cuddles and tucked in
  • Listen to story
  • Sing a bedtime song
  • Time to sleep

We decided to leave bath time out of the routine as J finds this exciting and fun so it is certainly not a calm activity, we therefore do it earlier in the evening before any bedtime routine would begin. This is quite similar to what we already do but without bath time as part of it and we will now make sure we always do this things in this set order. I’m sure it will take time and we may even have to change things along the way, but I’m ever-hopeful it will make at least some difference. His lack of sleep affects us all, not to mention the essential brain development time he is missing out on. Fingers crossed this new routine can lead to him sleeping better and for longer. We live in hope!


My list of some links to sleep-related information and advice:

Good Sleeping – Scottish Autism

Sleep -Ambitious About Autism

Helping your child sleep – NAS

Sleep and ASD – Autism Speaks

Establishing positive sleep patterns – Autism Support Network

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