The Solution to Autism and Sleep

Heavy blankets…tried it. Melatonin…tried it. Baths before bedtime…tried it. As much physical activity during the day to make my 5-year-old son with autism tired…tried it. Benedryl…tried it. Soothing noise maker in the room…tried it. Repetitive mantra “it’s time to sleep…it’s time to sleep”…tried it. (you can read that blog at

I think we’ve tried just about everything we can think of to get our son to sleep…and sleep well throughout the night.

I feel like a total failure.

All those things mentioned above have helped from time-to-time…and I would encourage you to try any if not all of them to see if they will help your child sleep. (consult physician before you do too much with meds)

I’m convinced there is no right or perfect answer to get PDD kids to sleep. There can’t be–just like children on the autism spectrum, every situation is totally different. And there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme to the reason.

Sometimes when William is so tired we think he’ll sleep all through the night…then 4:00 AM rolls around and he starts calling out…”drink…drink…DRINK!” Yes, we’ve put a drink by his bed…doesn’t stop. It’s not a drink he wants–he doesn’t like being awake in the dark.

Before we had children my wife and I always commented how we would “never” let our children sleep in our bed. We still are not fans of that–but I will admit there have been a few dozen times over 5 years where we’re so dang tired that we’ll put him in our bed just to get him some sleep and us some sleep–and then again, there are times when even that doesn’t work.

We’ll go months with him sleeping well…maybe not even waking up once. Then for no obvious reason, he’ll wake up 3, 4, 5 times a night–and that will go on for a few weeks…then he’ll go back to sleeping well.

Tired, cranky, sluggish…and I’m not even talking about my son…I’m talking about me! Ahhhhh the joys of autism.

And people without kids on the spectrum say, “Oh I know just how you feel.” REALLY….YA THINK SO? Uhhhh NO YOU DON’T!!!

So what’s the meta-message from this rambling blog?
1) Deal with it…get your rest when you can…help your spouse as much as possible…a 20 minute nap is valuable
2) Hey, there are times having a child with autism stink! (shocking I know)
3) Within reason, try anything and everything you feel comfortable with–I certainly would consult a doctor before you get to deep into medication
4) Love your child…it’s not like they’re doing this to you in spite or anything
5) Congratulations…you’re in a very unique club…and you’re not alone

10 responses to “The Solution to Autism and Sleep

  1. This came at JUST the right time. We’re on our family vacation right now and as you can imagine sleeping in a different bed in a hotel room has made for some very long nights. It truly is nice not to be alone. Thanks again for the right post at the right time.

  2. We’ve been in the same situation with our 6 year old austistic daughter. So many nights of “please just let us get some sleep.” We finally stopped battling with her and put a red colored nightlite in her room and said just play until you fall asleep. If she’s not asleep by 9:15 we’ll go up and make her get in bed and tuck her in… sometimes that works, sometimes she jumps right back up when we walk back down. Her sleep patterns got better when she started school and she generally sleeps well unless she takes a nap (which we try hard to prevent) otherwise she will be up until the wee hours. It took a long time for us to make her understand that if she wakes up in the night that she cannot make noise while other are sleeping. I don’t think she understands why but I guess we finally got through to her that that is what you do.

  3. Yeah it absolutely makes no sense at all…we’ll be in strange place, he’ll stay in the bed and zonk out. We’ll be at another strange place…he’ll run to our bed. Then he’ll do the same thing when we’re at our house. There is just no way to foresee or anticipate or solve the sleep issue. I’ll go to his room some nights and you could drive a train through his room and he wouldn’t notice. The next night I’ll open a door and it’ll chime and he’s up for hours…what is that? It’s nice to know there are many of us out there struggling with similar issues

  4. The families I work with have often complained about the inconsistent sleep patterns and cyles in their little ones. We have tried many interventions such as scheduling, increased activities, and diet, but nothing seems to work. Our hope was that, as they mature there would be a change but based on these post we should not hope for that. Thanks for sharing

  5. Sarahsparents

    We just got our daughters diagnosis she is seven. Now that we know it is enlightening the number of resources that we have found that describe the problems we have dealt with. Having read this I guess we are a little better off. Our daughter fights sleep every night, we deal with the I need a hug, I miss so and so, I need a drink, tuck me in, you did not hug me (though we have), read me a book, can I call grandma?, in an ever circular pattern. We now just let her be… as long as she is quite and does not call out… her bed time is a consistent 9pm however when she actually goes to sleep is another story! She will have bags under her eyes and not be able to go to bed; the following day she is more sensitive to stimulus, the downward spiral of frustration for all parties involved… A united front on the parents side is key, as with our daughter if she can keep me arguing with her or have my wife empathetic to her plight greatly extends the sleeplessness, we have to remind one another to not engage in our frustrations and stop the interaction, and not be mad at the other party for their frustration.
    We traveled coast to coast in a car and she did not sleep a wink, in the hotel rooms she would be up most of the night. When we can we adhere to the 9pm schedule as much as we can when we travel. We have also gotten accustomed to a countdown to bed time… you have half an hour to bed… you have 10 minutes to bed… Our daughter exhibits no sense of time but the countdowns reduce her anxiety over having to go to bed a little most nights. So far we have not had to many early am wake-ups that impact us we will get up and she will have been watching TV in the living room no telling how long she has been up, fortunately it has not impacted our sleep. It was way worse when she had a TV in her room we have removed as many distractions other than light over the past few years. She now has only a nightlight, no electronics of any kind! Beware the pocket video games and other such devices…

  6. We stay away from pocket video games…my rule is “if daddy can’t play it…then kids can’t play it” and I’m a total failure with video games and all that stuff…we hope to get an iPad one of these days but that will be under lock-and-key.
    Wouldn’t you know…the past two nights both children have slept well and barely made a peep…and so it goes….
    thanks for your post

  7. Such an honest and telling post. Even though I cannot say, “I’m there with you” b/c my son is SPD/ADHD not ASD, I can say, I can relate. So many things tried (and failed and tried again!), so many hits and misses, so many mornings (afternoons and nights) of overtiredness for all. Yet, so many blessings – sleep or no, I love our kids!

    Thx for sharing your heartfelt, real experience

  8. thanks so much…hopefully our experiences and brutally honest discussions will help other parents either identify or prepare for what they’re about to experience. We’d love to be a part of your blog site and links if you think there’s a mutual fit. Always trying to get the word out on “Look At My Eyes” and hopefully making a difference in the world!

  9. Socorro Gonzalez

    Even do my son Josman is 14 I still send him to bed at 8:30 PM because I know that it would take time for him to fall asleep so I feel that we are at least an hour ahead of schedule if it works. A funny story: Josman was schedule for a test at his neurologist a few years back and he was prescribed medication that would help him sleep thru the test. The nurse proceeds to take us to a serene room with a twin bed and sea murals on the wall. Josman is placed with wires around his forehead and is told by the nurse to close his eyes and listen to the soft music of sea sounds of waves splashing very very softly……this goes on for a few minutes and then you can hear a soft seagull mixed with the sea and suddenly Josman states ” NOT EVEN THE SEAGULL ARE WORKING “

  10. that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing. We had a few good weeks of full night sleep with very limited interruptions…then William awoke this morning at 3:21 AM and was up for the day…so I’m a little sleepy…it’s one thing if he’s up and not bothering others…but he’ll tap or make noises or walk around or just be noisy…don’t like that!

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