Autism Myths, Legends, and Mysteries of Sleep 15

This post is for Danette’s wonderful Best of Best Series.  Click on the badge below on July fifteenth to see other posts on this subject.  FYI: My daughter approved this post.

BestofBestThe myth is that if your child cannot fall asleep it is due to either anxious parenting or lack of firm parenting.  The legend is that those on the autism spectrum can totally avoid sleep problems if they avoid sensory overload and they are in a calm environment.  The mystery is why those on the autism spectrum have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Too many parents of children on the spectrum experience judgement for their child’s sleep problems and are given poor advice as a result.  I am one of them.  I can tell you now that if you talk to my fifteen year old that she will collaborate that the environment was quiet prior to her bedtime, and I was calm as we read her bedtime stories, told her stuffed animals good night and said her prayers during her toddler years.  Her bedtime was the same every night too.  Still she rarely slept more than six hours and she frequently had trouble going to sleep and went through periods of waking up several times a night.  She completely gave up her daytime naps unless she was ill by the time she was three.

Parents are also told that if they remove bright colors and all electronics from the bedroom and keep the house quiet their child will be able to sleep just fine.  Some recommend adding deep massage and/ or aroma therapy.  My teenager will tell you this does not work for her.  There are many times that she has no idea what keeps her awake.  Her mind just has trouble shutting down when it is bedtime.  She does eventually fall asleep.  She does get enough sleep to function either by taking naps or by sleeping longer some days.

No one knows for sure what causes those on the autism spectrum to have problems with sleep yet it remains an issue into adulthood for many.  Baylor College of Medicine believes it possibly is due to alterations in the production of melatonin.  You can read about their study by clicking on this link: Treatment of Sleep Problems in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder With Melatonin – Full Text View –

I believe we need to quit believing there is a one size fits all range of needed sleep or even for the time of day people sleep.  Maybe some children and some adults do not need as much sleep as others.  Maybe some people are born night owls and need to sleep later in the day.  Mayo clinic seems to think this is true for teenagers anyway.  Click on this link to read more: Teen sleep: Why is your teen so tired? –

Let me know what you think!


  1. LOVED THIS POST! Just last Friday, I admitted to my son’s former EI ABA therapist that he still sleeps in our bed. (He starts off in his own and finds his way into ours). He’s 5 and I’m beyond being judged. We’ve tried everything. And this is what works for our child. I’m okay with it.

    Thank you 🙂

  2. I agree with you. There is no one solution and finding the right one is up to the parent. My teen doses off after school even if he goes to bed by 930. Whereas, my nephews, goes to bed late and still get up exactly at 6. Nice job Sue.

  3. Pingback: Best of the Best, Edition 8: Sleep Issues & Bedtime and Special Needs Kids :: Help! S-O-S for Parents

  4. As a child I took a long time to fall asleep, but my main sleep problem most of my life was nightmares. Now I have neither of those problems much anymore…the newer one is that since I work late at night, it takes a long time (~2 hours or so) for my brain to wind itself down enough that I even want to get into bed. For the most part I just accept it…I don’t even really have a natural sleep cycle anymore; as long as I get enough consecutive sleep, my body doesn’t seem to care so much when it happens, be it from midnight to 8:00 AM or 3:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

    • Chavisory,
      I am honored to see you on my blog! I can see that nightmares would make sleep difficult, so I’m glad that isn’t a problem anymore. I think consecutive sleep is the key, and it is wonderful that your schedule works for you. That is all that really should matter in the long run.

  5. Excellent post and very true for us for sure
    We had to go to Melatonin
    What finally convinced me is that I read some research which showed that the brain changes without sleep
    Now I wonder why I waited so long

    • I’m glad the Melatonin is helping. Certainly, lack of sleep can cause problems, but I also wonder if it is the symptom rather than the cause in some cases.

  6. Sue,
    I really like this post. One of our OT was able to explain it really well to us and we feel that her explanation of the sleep issue applies to Dawson.
    Basically, it is a regulatory issue. The ability to regulate our emotions or sleep. So if Dawson would wake up from sleep during the night(which is something we all do) then he could not put himself back so sleep. Most people go through their sleep cycles and wake up and fall back asleep unaware that they have even woken up. But for for children on the spectrum their inability to regulate their body whether it is emotions or in this case sleep is impacted. Our pediatrician worked with us and Dawson is on a very low dose of amytriptyline which is a non habit forming anti depressant. The side affects is drowsiness. We give it to him every night and it has worked beautifully. He has been on it for over two years and the child know sleeps. He would wake for 2 to 4 hours a night when he had “off weeks”. For us it made sense. I hope that my comment makes sense.

  7. Hi Sue,
    I like this post. For me it is my thought-looping mind that keeps me awake. The house can be as dark and quiet as the inside of a tomb in a pyramid, but my mind will light up with all kinds of imaginary conversations that keep me awake for hours.

  8. Great post, Sue!

    Prior to taking melatonin, my son would take approximately 45-90 minutes to fall asleep. I had the impression that he was running through the entire day in his head – not in the sense of someone thinking through things or evaluating, but more in the sense of movies playing in his head and not letting him relax. It didn’t matter what the environment or routine was like for him either when it came to that aspect of things.

    I am interested, although perhaps a bit apprehensive, to see what changes will come when he reaches the teen years. But we’ll worry about that when we get there, I guess!

    • Trish,
      Read Bruce’s comment. You are on the same page! You have the diagnosis and there is much more information available than we had. There are always challenges in anyone’s life so let go of the apprehension. You wonderful son will be a wonderful teen!

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