Sleep problems are common among neurodivergent individuals, and there are many reasons for this.

One of the main factors could be a sleep disorder, such as Delayed Sleep Wake Disorder (DSWD), which is a type of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. DSWD causes individuals to have a naturally delayed urge to sleep, making them fall asleep much later than others.

Another possible reason could be a lack of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates our body clock. Autistic individuals may also have food sensitivities or sensory issues that affect their sleep.

What can help?

Parents can help their children by implementing classic “wind down” routines such as drinking hot milk, avoiding screens for an hour before bed, and using lavender spray on pillows. However, these may not be sufficient.

Melatonin capsules have been proven to help with sleep, but they cannot be prescribed by GPs in the UK and need to be prescribed by a specialist. Weighted blankets, compression sheets, bed tents, and white noise machines can help reduce anxiety and create a more comfortable sleeping environment.

Blackout blinds or curtains, night time ear plugs, and smell-based aids can also be effective.

Finally, parents should ensure there is enough transition time between their child’s evening activities and bedtime, and help their child prepare for the next day to reduce pre-sleep anxiety. While it may be desirable to take away all screens before bed, it’s not necessarily the right thing for all autistic children.