sleep disorders

The link between Autism, ADHD and other special needs and Sleep Disorders – 

and what you can do to help!


Unfortunately there is a significant link between children with Autism. As well as many other special needs and sleep disorders.

In fact it’s estimated that up to 90% of children with Autism and ADHD also suffer with sleep disorders, or at least struggle to get a good nights sleep.

This is due partly to the high levels of anxiety and hyperactivity they can have. And partly because, as studies have shown, many children with some special needs have lower levels of Melatonin.

The problem is, that for all children a good nights sleep is important. But when a child has special needs, getting plenty of sleep is absolutely vital.

Without lots of sleep, the negative symptoms of their special needs are made much worse. They will have even worse concentration, the brain will not be able to function as well, they will have elevated anxiety levels and they will be more hyperactive.


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It is recommended that children aged 1 to 13 get between 10 and 13 hours sleep per night depending on age.


  • If your child is aged 1 to 3 years, they should be getting 12 – 13 hours sleep per night
  • If your child is aged 3 to 5 years they should still be getting around 12 hours sleep per night
  • Children aged 6 to 12 years need around 11 hours sleep per night
  • Even teenagers need 9 to 10 hours sleep per night


But getting a child with special needs to get this much sleep can be challenging. Especially children who suffer with sleep disorders.

Before turning to medication, there are some other things you can try first to help your child sleep.

As children with special needs often benefit from routine to help them relax, it is important to follow a strict bedtime routine.

A child’s bedtime routine should take at least 45 minutes, and should be made up of at least 3 different things. This could include things like;

  • Having a bath
  • Getting their pyjamas on in a certain place
  • Having a long cuddle
  • Having a bedtime story
  • Having a glass of milk
  • Singing a quiet lullaby or nursery rhyme to them
  • Some very calm and quiet play


You may have to adapt these things depending on the age of your child.

Make sure your child has no sugar or caffeine in the evening. Also try to limit the use of iPad’s etc within an hour of bed time.


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In their bedroom put up black out blinds, as this can help to regulate their Melatonin levels during the night, which will help them sleep for longer.

If they do get up in the night, very calmly and gently take them back to bed. This can be really difficult as you may have to do this several times before they stay there.


Try these techniques first before resorting to medication.

If these techniques alone don’t work, although you should continue to use them. There has been a significant amount of research which shows that a Melatonin supplement before bed can help children get a good nights sleep.

Melatonin can be prescribed by your doctor, and should only be taken under medical supervision.

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