Why Will My Autistic Child Not Sleep?

Written By Autism Parents

A collection of parents navigating our way around raising children with autism

Why Will My Autistic Child Not Sleep?

If you have sat up at night and asked yourself the question ‘why will my autistic child not sleep’ then you’re not alone.

Troubles with sleep is so common we listed it in our top 10 signs of autism.

In this article we highlight some of the reasons why you may be struggling in this area.

Autism and sleep

Sleep disturbances are extremely common among children with autism to the point it’s estimated that between 40-80% struggle to some degree.

The negative impact of poor sleep is multilayered in that it will clearly affect both you and your child.

Half the battle of overcoming a particular problem is understanding the reasons for its existence.

With that in mind are some potential reasons why your autistic child may not be sleeping well:

Sensory issues

Sensory factors are probably the most likely reason that your child is struggling to sleep.

Autistic children often have challenges which cause them to be more sensitive to certain stimuli like noise, light, and touch.

It is not uncommon for autistic children to notice something as small as a change of washing powder or labels in bedding.

These sensitivities can make it difficult for them to fall asleep and crucially stay asleep.

Why does my autistic child not sleep?
Lack of social awareness

Your child may lack general social awareness and to a degree, empathy.

It is likely they do not understand the concept of other people sleeping, and the negative impact of waking them.

This issue regularly arises when autistic children wake in the middle of the night. Common behaviours include turning lights on or starting to play with toys.

Obviously they aren’t meaning to be insensitive but simply do not recognise the impact of their behaviour on others.


Sadly, many children with autism experience anxiety, which can be a significant barrier to getting a good night’s sleep.

A desire for movement

Your child may desire sensory input in the form of movement and the act of laying or sitting still may be uncomfortable.

If your child rocks or spins then this may be applicable to them.

Not registering tiredness

In some cases, children with autism may have difficulty recognising the feeling of being tired. This can make it challenging for them to identify when it is time to go to bed.

This can result in difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Lack of a routine

Autistic children often thrive on routine and predictability. If their routine is disrupted or they do not have a consistent bedtime routine, it can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep.

Repetitive behaviours

Your child may have some repetitive behaviours which he or she cannot put to one side. For example they may love playing with trains so the concept of going to sleep and stopping this activity is undesirable.

Summary – Why will my autistic child not sleep?

There are a number of reasons as to why you may be struggling with your child’s sleep.

The most common issue is that their sleep is being disturbed by some sort of a heightened sensory awareness.

To combat the issue you could try such additions as a weighted blanket, blackout blinds or provide sheets of a different material.

Parents would also be advised to try to install a routine at bedtime following a consistent order of events.

An example of a bedtime routine would be to watch the same TV program at a set time, have some warm milk, brush your child’s teeth, then read a story in bed

Naturally things like teeth brushing can be challenging and not all autistic children would sit and listen to a story.

Whatever your child’s needs and behaviours you will be well served to carve out some sort of consistent routine before bed.

With patience and consistency you may be surprised at the improvements you can make to their sleeping habits.

About the author

A collection of parents navigating our way around raising children with autism.

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