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How to Increase Quality of Sleep of a Child with ASD?

Sleep problems are more likely to occur in children with ASD than their neurotypical peers. 20-40% of neurotypical children have sleep issues, whereas it is prominent in up to 80% of children with ASD.

Having a good night’s sleep is important for us to function well the next day. It enables us to have better focus and stay alert, improves our memory, and generally puts us in a better mood amongst its other benefits. However, this does not always come easy, especially to children on the spectrum. Sleep disorders were reported to affect up to 80% of children with ASD which is 2-4 times more than their neurotypical counterparts (Nguyen et al., 2021). The lack of or disrupted sleep has distinct impacts on their everyday life, academic performance, as well as their emotional and behavioural regulation (Nguyen et al., 2021). Poor sleepers were also reported to display more stimming behaviours, hyperactivity, and deficits in social skills (Galli et al., 2022).

There are multiple factors that come into play in determining the quality of sleep a child with ASD gets at night. Here are some tips on how you can help to increase your child’s quality of sleep to enable them to get a more restful night:

  1. Remove all electronic devices (ie. television, phones) at minimum an hour before their bedtime. As these are highly reinforcing and stimulating for children, removing them ahead of their bedtime will allow your child to relax and better settle in for the night (Raising Children Network, 2020).

  2. Develop a bedtime routine and stick to it habitually. This involves following the same set of steps every night to encourage good sleep patterns until it becomes a habit for your child to adhere to. For example, keeping all toys and electronics by 8pm, followed by taking a bath, being read to, then turning out the lights.

  3. Set up an appropriate sleep environment. The environment plays a big role in helping your child fall asleep as it is easier to fall asleep in some environments over others. Hence, ensure that the space is dimly lit, quiet (at the very most with some soft calming music), and at a good temperature as it is difficult to fall asleep when the environment is too hot or too cold (Raising Children Network, 2020). Also ensure that they do not have too many toys lying around as it can change their association of the time and place by mistaking it for playtime.

  4. Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine and sugar. It is perfectly fine for your child to consume these items, however, you will need to be aware of when they consume it and how much they consume. Ideally, these should be avoided from late afternoon onwards to prevent your child from having difficulty falling asleep (Watson, 2022).

  5. Be physically active during the daytime. Being active during the day, preferably in the outdoors, allows your child to expend most of their energy and get plenty of natural light which helps with sleep. However, there are some things to note which can influence the effectiveness of physical activity. The intensity, duration, and time of day at which physical activity is done can affect its benefits on sleep. For example, physical activity should not be done within 4 hours before sleep as a child’s level of excitement might persist, making it difficult for them to fall asleep. Apart from the direct benefit of improving their physical health, it also helps with behaviour regulation, motor development, cognition, and social skills (Nguyen, et al., 2021).

Written By: Brenda Kwek


Galli, J., Loi, E., Visconti, L. M., Mattei, P., Eusebi, A., Calza, S., Fazzi, E., & ASD Collaborative Group (2022). Sleep Disturbances in Children Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13, 736696.

Nguyen, T. D., Guinot, M., & Bricout, V. A. (2021). Effect of Daily Physical Activity on Sleep Characteristics in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 9(7), 91.

Raising Children Network. (2020, November 6). Better Sleep for autistic children 3-8 years: Eight tips. Raising Children Network.

Watson, S. (2022). Helping your child with autism get a good night's sleep. WebMD.

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