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The Truth about Autism and Sleep Problems

November 28, 2022

The Truth about Autism and Sleep Problems

Ashley is just getting her coffee at work when the conversation between the three young moms at the water cooler turns to babies sleeping through the night. As they speak about their triumphs at finally getting a good night’s sleep, Ashley jumps in with a joke about forgetting what a full night’s sleep feels like. They all laugh.

But through Ashley’s smile, there’s a sort of sadness, a defeat. She may have older kids than these moms, but she can’t speak about the ordeal of not sleeping through the night as something in past tense. She’s an autism mom and she abides by a different set of rules (and milestones). Sleep, in her home, has been a long-term struggle.

Ashley’s not alone. According to a 2019 study, sleep disturbances affect about 80% of children with autism. In fact, it’s well known that these kids experience sleep issues twice as frequently as their peers. 

The Four Most Common Questions about Autism and Sleep Problems

Here’s a roundup of the four most compelling questions people have regarding autism and sleep issues. 

What Causes Sleep Disorders in Children with Autism?

While researchers still cannot pinpoint exactly why children with autism are more prone to sleep issues, they do have their theories. Let’s look at the five most popular theories.

When Do Sleep Problems Start in Autism?

During the first few months of life, typically developing babies ease into a normal cycle of sleep and wakefulness. They gradually grow out of the frequency of their daytime naps, and start sleeping for longer periods of time at night. From infancy, children with autism may not develop these mature sleep patterns in step with their peers. They may continue to have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night, and the problem can persist long after children start school.

What Types of Sleep Problems are Common with Autism?

For children with autism, the most common sleep problems include:


How Does Lack of Good Sleep Affect Autism?

Sleep deprivation can worsen autistic symptoms and significantly lower a child’s quality of life. According to research, insufficient sleep has been linked to the following traits: 

How do I Know if my Autistic Child has a Sleep Disorder?

If your child regularly has trouble falling asleep or wakes up frequently during the night, he or she may have a sleep disorder. Make a doctor’s visit to seek clarification. 

Many parents keep a one-week sleep diary to track how much and when their child is sleeping. By writing down your child’s sleep behavior, you might start to see a pattern or notice something in the environment that could be affecting their sleep.

Here are the recommended hours of sleep needed per night, by age:

How Can I Help My Autistic Child Sleep Better?

How Can I Help My Autistic Child Sleep Better?

Fortunately, there are several ways parents can improve their child’s sleep. Here are the fundamentals to establishing good sleep hygiene: 

relaxation techniques

Here is a sampling of sleep products to consider: 

Here’s to a Good Night’s Sleep

If kiddo isn’t sleeping well, there’s a good chance you aren’t either. One recent study has shown that autism parents sleep less, have poorer sleep quality, and wake up earlier than parents of children without autism. AngelSense is a strong advocate for autism parents finding an online forum or community and getting the support they need–especially when attempting to improve sleep. 

There’s hope. With time, we’re sure you’ll be sharing your triumphs in this area. Here’s wishing you good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

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