How To Get a Child With Autism to Sleep Alone

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

December 28, 2022

Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties sleeping. This may be seen as having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early in the morning. Between 40 to 80 percent of children with ASD have sleeping difficulties, compared to 20 to 40 percent of typically developing children.

When children wake in the middle of the night, or if they are having trouble sleeping, they may want to join you in bed. Your child may also have difficulty falling asleep in their own room alone. Encouraging and teaching your child to sleep alone can help them become more independent and build better sleeping habits.

Benefits of Your Child Sleeping Alone

Getting your child to sleep alone benefits not only them but yourself. Studies show that children who sleep in their own beds often sleep better and wake up less during the night. They also learn to self-soothe if they wake up in the middle of the night, helping them fall back asleep. You will also get a better night’s sleep and have more time to yourself.

7 Ways To Get Your Child to Sleep Alone

To help your child sleep alone, you can create a bedtime routine with calming activities that let them know it is time for bed. If behavioral issues are causing your child’s sleep problems, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy may also be able to help.

  1. Create a Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are important for all children, but children with ASD can greatly benefit from them. Creating cues that it’s time to begin winding down for the night helps them relax and get ready for bed. Be sure to stick to the same routine each night, with the activities following the same order. When starting a bedtime routine, be sure to note how long it takes before they lie down so you can adhere to the same schedule.

  1. Choose Calming Activities Before Bed

As the night begins to wind down, establish a routine with calming activities that help your child learn that it’s time to relax. This can include bathtime, putting on comfortable pajamas, reading a story, or stretching. Some children may also like a massage or pressure therapy. Finding a routine that works best for helping your child relax sets you up for success in getting them to sleep in their own bed.

  1. Limit Stimulating Activities

Screen time before bed is known to interfere with sleep. Try to limit your child’s television or tablet time as part of their bedtime routine. High-energy or stimulating activities should also be avoided to help them relax. Knowing what stimulates your child can help you build your routine — for example, if bathtime is more stimulating than relaxing, try moving it to a different time.

  1. Create a Relaxing Environment

Your child will sleep better in their own bedroom when it is comfortable. Avoid sensory overload for children with autism by keeping their room as quiet as possible from other distracting noises. If your child prefers background noise, you may consider getting a white noise machine. Using curtains to keep the room dark and cool also helps promote sleep.

  1. Make Bedtime Changes Gradually

Change does not happen overnight, and patience will be key when getting your child to sleep alone. Start with small changes you can introduce over time to help your child get used to sleeping in their own bed.

For example, if they are used to falling asleep with you, try using the fading method. After your nighttime routine, tell them it’s time for bed and put them to sleep. On the first night, sit in a chair next to them until they fall asleep. The next time, keep the same routine but move your chair slightly further away toward the door.

Continue to do this each night until your chair is at the door. The following night, put your child to bed and leave the room. If they call out to you or are not sleeping, go back into their room and briefly tell them it’s time for bed, then leave again. Be sure to keep your visits short and give a quick hug and goodnight. If you find yourself going back into your child’s room multiple times, wait a little longer each time to help avoid reinforcing the behavior.

  1. Use a Reward System

Encourage your child to sleep in their own bed by offering them a small reward. This helps reinforce independence and gives them something to look forward to. This may be a sticker, a toy, or choosing an activity they enjoy.

If your child wants extra time with you before bed, give them a set number of “free passes” to use. These can be used for a visit from a parent, a hug or kiss, or a drink of water. If they do not use a pass and go to bed in their own room, they can also get a small reward.

Be sure to communicate that passes can also be used once per night—once it is used, it will not be returned to them until the next night.

  1. Use ABA Therapy

ABA therapy can also help your child if behavioral issues are driving their sleep difficulties. An ABA therapist can help identify challenging behaviors and teach new ones using positive reinforcement. You may use a sleep log to track your child’s sleeping patterns and behaviors. These can include:

  • What time they are put to bed
  • What time they fall asleep
  • How often they wake up during the night
  • How long they were awake during the night

Once issues are identified, ABA therapy can help parents learn new ways to get their children to fall asleep alone and positively reinforce their behaviors.

Conclusion

Sleep is an important part of your child’s development, and research shows that it is best for them to sleep in their own bed. If you have tried strategies on your own, ABA therapy may help address underlying behavioral issues.

‍‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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