If your child is autistic you may already know that autism often coincides with a number of sleep difficulties. Autistic children often have more difficulty getting to sleep, and once they're asleep, may have trouble staying asleep. Studies conducted by having parents complete sleep journals for autistic children and children who are not on the spectrum have shown that autistic children are much more likely to experience prolonged sleep latency (taking a long time to fall asleep), sleep disturbances like nightmares or night terrors, or sleepwalking.

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Many children, when they experience a poor night of sleep, overcompensate and become hyperactive. In autistic kids, this tendency is even more obvious. The difficulty becomes that while many children may have one bad night of sleep and then recover, the poor circadian rhythms that go along with autism can make recovery almost impossible without assistance. These kids can accumulate an ongoing and very difficult to fix sleep debt that contributes to behavior problems, hyperactivity, sensory overstimulation - all problems that kids with autism already struggle with.

When kids are tired, they learn poorly; when they're chronically tired, they show increases in stress hormones like cortisol and are unable to focus. These difficulties, if ongoing, can be absolutely catastrophic for children suffering from autism.


While there are many factors, studies have clearly shown that autistic kids have difficulty with their gut flora, and a variety of intestinal complaints. Because of these digestive problems, the vast majority of autistic children do not make enough melatonin on their own, a hormone which helps their bodies feel tired and fall asleep. Researchers are not entirely sure why these gut problems arise, though it's generally agreed that the source is almost certainly genetic.


If your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, having them evaluated by a pediatric sleep specialist is necessary. They can help you determine the best way to help your autistic child get a good nights rest. They can also make sure that your child isn't struggling with any additional sleep disorders, such as restless legs or obstructive sleep apnea, that may be making it even harder to get some good sleep. 

Once your child is sleeping well at night, you will often find that their emotional regulation is better and that they have increased ability to focus and attend to teachers and other adults in their life. They have more energy to play, and even better, studies have shown that with good quality rest, the autism symptoms that interfere with learning are reduced, and kids have better long-term outcomes.

A good night's sleep isn't a cure-all for autism, but it can certainly help your child be in the best possible place to learn, grow, and develop to their best ability.