Sleep is vitally important to maintain mental health and wellbeing. However, for many autistic people and their families getting enough sleep can be difficult. Problems with sleep are twice as common among autistic children as they are among non-autistic children or those with other developmental conditions.
Many autistic people also have other conditions such as ADHD, anxiety and physical health issues such as digestive issues. Each of these are known to disrupt sleep.
Sensory differences, especially internal body awareness (also known as interoception), can contribute to difficulties in sleeping. Light, sound, temperature and touch can all disrupt sleep.
Autistic people often talk of increased anxiety at night time, because of a tendency to dwell or ruminate on the events of the day. They may be constantly replaying situations in their minds trying to make sense of social interactions, worrying about the next day or an event in the future. It’s common to find switching off difficult.
Research indicates that as a result of sensory differences, regulation of the sleep hormone melatonin may occur differently in autistic people. People with ADHD may have differences with regulation of the stress hormone cortisol which is why they too often have difficulties with sleep.
Tips for better sleep
Sadly, for most autistic people there is no magic remedy to improve sleep, but there are things you can do to help. These may include strategies such as introducing sleep routines, using sleep diaries or changes to medication and diet.
We have provided links to websites below, where you can find more tips and advice on sleep.