Sound Sleep Strategies

  • Situation

    My child typically fights going to bed, thinking of more and more activities to do to prevent bedtime from occurring. Once he is settled in bed, I have to stay until he falls asleep. He often wakes during the night or is up very early.  I am exhausted, what can I do?

  • Summary

    Routines, visual schedules, limited choices, and calm persistence are strategies that can create Sound Sleep that will last through the night.  Sleep disturbances are common in children with autism and may be related to biological, behavioral or psychological factors.

    • Develop a routine that is calming and enjoyable for your child including a bedtime activity, a soothing bath or shower, and finish with a bedtime book. Build in choices for your child, such as which activity they’d like to do; if they’d like to use a colorful wash rag or fun soap in the bath; and which flavor of toothpaste they’d like to use.
    • Use a visual schedule that your child can use to see all of the steps in the bedtime routine, allowing them to check them off or to move them to the completed stage of the schedule.
    • Develop a goodnight routine such as hugs and kisses or a rhyming statement you use every night so your child knows it is time for bed.
    • Once your child is in bed, stand outside the room for a few minutes. If your child leaves the bedroom, gently return him/her to bed with a quiet statement such as, “It’s time for bed, I will see you in the morning.”
    • If your child continues to leave the bed, gently return him/her to the room each time but with no further talking.
    • Be consistent in your routine!

    If problems persist despite consistent implementation of Sound Sleep Strategies, follow up with your child’s pediatrician and/or mental health professional may be warranted.

  • Definition

    Sound Sleep Strategies are strategies a parent can implement easily if they are willing to be consistent and persistent through a week or two of implementation.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Autism Speaks Sleep Resources (Website Resource)

  • Process

    1. Develop a routine that is calming and enjoyable for your child and begin about thirty minutes before bedtime. Build in some choices for this routine. For example, you may begin with a quiet activity such as a painting or coloring activity every night. Allow your child to choose between the two activities. Next a bath or shower with a choice of a colored washrag or special soap to use. After the bath or shower give your child a choice of toothpastes to use. Finally allow your child to choose between 3 books to read with him/her in bed.
    2. Take a look at any environmental or sensory related factors that could impact sleep.  For example, is the room too hot or are there too many toys or tempting electronics laying around for your child to see.  Although this may be difficult, try to limit the child’s bedroom to only calming activities to help them associate the room with rest.
    3. Make a visual schedule of the routine for your child to access by checking off each routine or ‘pulling’ it off if the pictures are velcroed (see video).  Try to keep the time of starting the routine as consistent as possible.
    4. Develop a ‘good night’ routine such as hugs and kisses and a rhyme or statement you use every night.
    5. Once you leave stand outside his/her door. If he/she comes out gently return him/her to the bed with a quiet statement such as “It’s time for bed, I will see you in the morning.”
    6. Continue with this procedure one more time with the statement. If he/she comes out more times, gently return your child to bed with no further talk.
    7. Note that for the first few days this could take time. If you have a partner to assist you, work out a schedule BUT be sure you are both consistent. At the beginning your child may cry more, and/or come out of his/her room at a high rate because he/she is trying to make things occur as it worked before.
    8. In addition, try to increase your child’s daily exercise, limit napping (if over 4 years old) and avoid food and drinks with caffeine.
    9. If the strategies are kept consistent , your child should start falling asleep quickly and stay asleep for an extended period of time.


  • Documents and Related Resources

    Sleep Tool Kit Autism Speaks (download for free)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.