May 23, 2022


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Creating Bedtime Routines

Pro Tips provided by Johanna Shaflucas M.S. Ed., BCBA, Clinical Coordinator of Behavioral Support; Gretchen Abdulla, Supervising Clinician-Behavior Support; and the Behavior Support team.

Helping a child with autism get ready for bedtime can be a challenge for parents and caregivers. Below are some tips for establishing a bedtime routine to help a child settle in for the night.

1. Create a space for sleeping.

While some children can sleep in a room with toys and games, others do better when there are no distractions. If this is the case, make sure the child’s bedroom is not a space where they typically play or watch TV. Limit their playtime to other rooms so they only associate their bedroom with sleeping.

2. Create a consistent schedule.

Set aside an hour to slowly and systematically get your child ready for bed. Turning off the TV, reading a book, taking a bath, and speaking quietly are signs that it’s time to wind down for the evening.

Children with autism tend to benefit from a structured schedule. If your child is a visual learner, create a visual schedule of each activity before bedtime. Show them pictures of each activity so they know what to expect. Timing out each activity can also be helpful for some children. For example, if your child likes to spend more time in the bath, try setting a timer and telling them they only have 20 minutes in the bath and then it’s on to the next activity.

3. Limit naps, food, and screen time in the evening.

While your child might feel tired in the afternoon, it’s important to avoid letting them nap. If they fall asleep later in the afternoon, there’s a greater chance that they won’t be tired when it’s time for bed, and they may even be up the whole night. Avoid having large meals right before bed and limit caffeine products like soda or chocolate. Wind down screen time an hour or so before bed. This helps a child’s mind and body get ready for sleep.

4. Getting up during the night.

Sometimes children get up once or multiple times during the night. If this occurs, parents should remain silent and not provide extra attention. Keep the lights off and take the child back to their room. If they continue to get up, repeat the same process.

If a child gets up to use the bathroom, make sure there are night lights in the hallway and in the bathroom. Keep the main lights off, remain quiet, take them to the bathroom and then back to bed. These interactions should be as boring as possible so the child won’t be as likely to keep getting up because they’re not receiving any engagement.

5. Getting back into routine.

Consistency is important, but bedtime routines may get interrupted due to vacation, holidays, family visits, etc. If a child starts staying up later than their normal bedtime, parents and caregivers will have to work their way back to that normal time slowly. For example, if a child has been staying up until 11 pm and their normal bedtime is 9 pm, start having the child go to bed at 10:30 pm and work back by 30-minute increments.