Autistic Child Won’t Go To Bed

Written By Autism Parents

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

Autistic Child Won’t Go To Bed

Problems with sleep and autism are well documented but what do you do if your autistic child won’t go to bed at all?

We delve into this complicated problem below exploring possible reasons and solutions.

Autistic child refusing to go to bed

I think it is fair to say that every parent has encountered this problem to some degree.

For example it is not uncommon for neuro-typical children to protest going to bed.

As we all know however, problems are often amplified when autism is in the mix.

Here are some possible reasons behind the refusal;


We often say on this site that routines can be a gift and a curse with an autistic child.

In some respects they can be really helpful, to provide structure and comfort to our kids.

But on the other hand routines can develop for negative behaviours which can be hard to break.

It is therefore possible that your child has over just a couple of nights developed a negative routine. They now just automatically refuse to go to bed because that is ‘what they do’.

Autistic child won't go to bed
If your autistic child won’t go to bed it can be tough

They’re not tired

We’ve written previous articles about the amount of sleep autistic individuals need.

The general consensus is that they usually need more sleep than the neuro-typical.

But consensus is all out the window as each autistic individual is unique.

It may be that your child just simply doesn’t need as much sleep as you may think.

Communication blockers may be stopping them from articulating that point to you.

Negative night-time experiences

Many parents describe nighttimes as a traumatic time of the day for their autistic children.

Some wake up screaming in the middle of the night, others just can’t fall asleep and get frustrated.

There can be many reasons behind these difficulties but they include hypersensitivity to noise and touch.

What I mean by hypersensitivity to touch is that blankets, pillows or pyjamas can irrite them.

Co-occuring conditions

ADHD can also impact a child’s bedtime routine.

Kids with ADHD may have difficulty winding down due to their hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Their racing thoughts and restlessness can make it hard to settle down for the night.

Additionally, transitioning from a stimulating environment to a calm, dark bedroom can be a challenge for them.

What can parents do?

In order to tackle the issue the first port of call would be to establish what is causing it.

The reasons behind your child’s refusal may be any of the above or something completely different. So the first thing to do would be to really study your child’s behaviour.

Are they exhibiting signs of being tired before bed? Are they sleepy during the day?

When they get into bed (eventually) do they seem comfortable?

Once you’ve established some confidence in relation to the cause here are some suggestions regarding putting an end to the refusal.

Reduce stimulation

As the evening starts consider restricting access to stimulating toys and entertainment.

This is written with the full appreciation of how difficult this can be.

The reasons behind this removal of stimulation is to try to calm your child.

If their heart and mind is racing, to go from that to a dark quiet room is very unappealing.

Consider having an allocated time for reading books together or another calm activity.

Develop a healthy routine

Along a similar vein to the above suggestion you may be well served to develop a routine conducive to going to bed.

The routine will vary from one child to another but attempt to set times for various activities.

For example you could say at 6pm your child changes into their pyjamas.

Then at 6.30 they get a warm glass of milk and a cookie while watching TV.

After that at 6.45 you brush your child’s teeth.

At 7pm you read a book or books to your child.

At 7.30 you take them up to bed.

You could even use a digital clock to highlight the times to your child.

Again I fully appreciate that sounds like utopia but routines can be developed for healthy processes.

It is unlikely that this routine will sink in immediately but with a dedicated effort over time they may adapt.

You could even utilise a schedule board for them so that they know the exact order of events.

Make their bedroom more appealing

If it is that their sensory needs and sensitivities are causing their reluctance, try to adapt their sleeping environment.

Experiment with different types of pillows and sheets. Some parents rave about compression blankets or mattresses with rolled sides.

Using tools like blackout curtains or blinds can also be helpful.

Or using something like a white noise machine or a fan to provide a distraction from outside input.

What I am getting at here is that it may well be a case of trial and error until you find an environment your child likes.

Reward progress

If and when your child starts to make progress in this area make sure they know how proud you are.

Rewards can take many different forms but you could give them a sticker on a chart or even a treat the following morning.

You could consider giving them their favourite breakfast if they went to bed well the previous night.

Obviously the trick is to ensure that they link the treat to the positive bed behaviour.

You could use the schedule board again for this purpose. Consider adding a tick or a gold star to the board for a successful night time, then immediately provide the reward.

Summary – Autistic child won’t go to bed

An autistic child who won’t go to bed is a very difficult situation to handle. You are probably desperate for some adult time and the last thing you want is to be chasing them around at midnight.

Firstly remember you are not alone, there are thousands of parents in the same position.

Consider reaching out to social media groups for support from peers.

From there consider a period of trial and error to make improvements and be committed to a plan.

Good luck

Any tips or ideas?

We would love to hear from you if you have got any techniques or ideas for our readers to try.

Be sure to leave a comment if any of the above has helped or if you have any ideas we can add to this article.

Also be sure to search for any other articles you might find helpful.

Try for example searching below for topics like ‘meltdown’ or ‘communication’.

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

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