It’s a well-known fact that many autistic children have difficulty sleeping. In fact, studies show that up to 80% of children with autism experience some form of sleep disturbance. It might be that they have difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or if you have a child like mine, a little bit of both. 

What’s a parent to do to get some shut-eye? While there are some medical interventions you can take (consult your child’s doctor on this), an important step is examining your child’s sleep environment.

Sensory factors can make a big difference in how your child sleeps, so setting up their bedroom to eliminate any potential sensory issues can lead to better rest. Here are some important things to consider to optimize sleep for your child, based on sensory input. 

Minimize Visual Stimulation

If your child is highly sensitive to their visual world, you might want to tone down what they can see from their bed. There are several things to consider here. 

Use muted colors on the wall. 

Soft, soothing paint palettes are the way to go. Consider pastels for wall colors and limit the number of decorations that might be distracting to your child. 

Keep toys and playthings out of view for sleep.

Is your child’s bedroom also their main play space? This is often the case. Consider having the bed in a separate area from the most stimulating toys and games, so they won’t be tempted to play during sleep time. This might involve rearranging some furniture in a careful way, or investing in a toy organization system to make sure no toys are in sight for bedtime. You can also get creative with curtains and room dividers. Just remember that “out of sight is out of mind” — which means fewer temptations to play. 

Purchase blackout curtains. 

Our brains are programmed to sleep when it’s dark out. Investing in some blackout curtains can help your child ease into sleep if there is still sunlight at bedtime and keep them asleep after the sun comes up. 

Create a bed tent. 

While this option might not be the right one for every child, a good bed tent is something to consider — especially in a bigger bedroom. They are a relatively new phenomenon that makes the sleeper feel enclosed in a comfortable place. Closing up the bed tent could become a routine that signals sleep. 

Eliminate screens in bedrooms. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time an hour before bedtime. This means, of course, that there should also be no tech devices in your child’s room. Charge all touchscreens in a common space. Create a regular bedtime routine of low-tech calming rituals, such as reading in bed. 

Minimize Auditory Stimulation

Some autistic children are highly sensitive to sound. This, too, might interfere with a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips to create the best environment for sensitive ears. 

Invest in a sleep sound machine. 

There are a variety of great sleep sound machines on the market with a variety of lulling options from white noise to gentle ocean waves. Many of these can be great options for a child who is sensitive to sound, or if you live in a noisy part of the world. You might need to experiment with the type of sleep sound that works best for your child. 

Consider other household noises. 

Is there a telephone near your child’s bedroom that rings loudly? Or does running the dishwasher at night cause water to run through nearby pipes in the walls? Be sure to consider all possible noises that might disturb your child at night. Some might be easy to move, while others might take some adjustments.

Pad floors and walls.

Larger homes — especially those with hardwood floors and high ceilings — might be more conducive to echoing sounds. For your child’s bedroom and the surrounding rooms, consider thick carpets for the floors to mute footsteps. Tapestries can also be used to hush sounds coming through walls. 

Maximize the Cozy Touch

Many autistic individuals are also very sensitive to touch. This not only includes the kinds of fabrics they wear during the day but also their sleep situation. Here are considerations for those sensitive to touch. 

Try a weighted blanket or compression blanket.

Weighted blankets became trendy for everyone a few years ago, but they can actually do wonders for those with autism. The deep pressure can feel calming, especially for those who move around a lot at night. A similar idea is a compression sheet or blanket, which is usually made of lycra. This can offer a kind of calming hug to get your child to relax. These products don’t work for everyone, but it might be worth experimenting with them.

Opt for higher-thread count sheets and blankets.

A scratchy sheet can really deter a good night’s sleep for kids who care about what touches their skin. Splurge for some nicer sheets if your child seems particularly sensitive to touch. 

Create a sanctuary with stuffed toys.

Your child’s favorite lovey might be more than just emotional support; it can provide that soft touch and smell that is familiar to your child. My own child has a collection of pillow pets that provide him with a “nest” of sorts when he is going to bed. The routine of sleeping with a favorite stuffed toy can help lull your child to sleep.

Ensure pajamas are extra comfy.

If your child is sensitive to tags and seams on clothing, then you already know it can be a struggle to find the right pajamas for your child. Go with an open mind and experiment until you find the best, softest PJs for your kid. You want to make it enjoyable for your child to change into these. (Then, if you are crazy like me, you buy five more pairs of that pajama set in a variety of sizes, just in case they are destroyed or your child grows!)  


Sleep and Autism. (2022). National Autistic Society.

Sleep problems in autism, explained. (2020) Spectrum News.

Solving Sleep Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Frazzled Families. (2014).

AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times. (2016). American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sleep Well on the Autism Spectrum. (2014).