Autism and Sleep

Autism and Sleep

sleep and autism


Autism and sleep disorders often go hand in hand.  We all know how important a good night’s sleep is to our general health, mood, wellbeing and daytime performance.  Poor sleep can lead to a whole host of health problems including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, depression, reduced immune function, heart failure, or stroke. While everyone deals with barriers to good sleep from time to time, folks with autism have additional sleep disorders that can impair their rest on a regular basis.


One theory suggests that folks with autism may have a malfunction in their body’s ability to produce melatonin which allows the body to rest and repair itself.  This disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm or 24-hour cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes which respond to light and dark.  With autism, it takes longer to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Nighttime wakening is more frequent.  Sleep is less restorative as the REM stage (rapid eye movement) is shorter. The REM stage is critical for learning and retaining memories.  Repetitive movements and restless leg syndrome are more common resulting in the kicking off of covers which disrupts sleep. Sensitivity to light, noises, temperatures, and fabrics may be more intense.  Although not too common, sleep apnea may be an issue as well.  All these conditions of autism can lead to poor sleep.

autism and sleep


Poor sleep not only has an impact on our general health, but it also worsens the characteristics of autism.  It leads to daytime behavior problems and parental stress. Social interactions may be more awkward, aggression may surface, learning is delayed, cognitive functions are poor, brains are sluggish, irritability comes easily, and aches and pains are more common. Additionally, you see low motivation, more repetitive movements, lower test scores, increased hyperactivity, and frequent distractions.


Furthermore, co-conditions can make the features of autism and poor sleep worse. Many folks with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience such things as gastrointestinal problems, constipation, abdominal pain, and cramps, sensory processing issues and even ADHD.  Medicines taken for these conditions can further lead to insomnia.  Genetic conditions may even play a part in sleep issues related to autism such as depression and chronic stress.


Obviously, a good bedtime routine promotes better sleep for all of us.  Turning the TV and digital devices off well before retiring to bed is just one good tip that helps all of us.  But for folks with ASD, more steps can be taken to improve the quality of their sleep.

1. Get everyone on board:  Since everyone in the house can be impacted by the sleep issues of one person, everyone in the house should be on board with the plan. If necessary, post the plan as a reminder.  Keep the plan simple so it’s not overwhelming. It can start at dinner time and culminate with the bedtime routine that may vary for each person.

2. Sticking to the plan:  Making a plan is essential but sticking to it is also important.   Consistency is key to success.  Even if you have been out for the evening, it’s important to get in to the routine as soon as you return.

3. Bedtime routine:  The bedtime routine for folks with ASD should be about 15-30 mins. Activities should be progressively relaxing and include such things as a light snack, warm bath, getting into PJ.s tooth brushing, reading a story, prayers, lights out.  Make sure all stimulating activities are done early in the day, and not within 2-3 hours of bedtime.  Because we are all unique, what is soothing to one may be stimulating to others.  That is true with ASD as well.  Keep this in mind when planning the routine.

4. Lights: Keep the room dark.  Use heavy curtains if the streetlights shine in. If the room is too dark, a small night light may be preferred.  In the morning, be sure to open the curtains and let the light in to assist the body’s circadian rhythm.

5. Temperature: The ideal room temperature for sleeping is 65–67 degrees Fahrenheit unless you are sleeping without covers.  Then it can be a little warmer but a room that is too hot or too cold will disrupt sleep and encourage kicking off covers, another major disrupter to sleep.

6. Sounds: Noise is distracting and even noise from another part of the house can disrupt the sleep of a very sensitive individual. Sounds like running water or the dishwasher running can be disruptive to someone who is highly sensitive.  Keep all household noise quiet at bedtime and throughout the night. While some folks like to fall asleep to soft soothing music, even that can disrupt sleep when it stops.  If white noise is used like a fan, it should be used all night.

7. Fabrics: PJ’s and bedding should be made in soft, comfortable fabrics like cotton, silk, bamboo.  Loose or tight depends on the preference of the individual.

8. Weight or no weight:  Weighted blankets have been shown to give a sense of security to folks with ASD. The benefits of pressure go beyond just cover to relieve anxiety, depression, insomnia, and pain.  However, some sensitive folks do not like the feeling of the weight on their body or the blankets are too hot for them.  Another product, ZipSheets, give a tucked in, covered, and secure feeling yet the breathable cotton is cooler and loose against the skin.  ZipSheets have been shown to be calming for folks with ASD as well.  So, it all depends on the preference of the individual when it comes to covers and weight.  If you are choosing ZipSheets, neutral colors of sand, grey, and white as well as sand flannel may be less stimulating than the brighter, vibrant colors of the brand.

9. Relaxation Techniques:  Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.

10. Melatonin:  Check with your doctor about using a melatonin supplement if you feel it’s necessary.

autism and sleep

Remember, sleep issues with one person in the house will result in sleep issues for everyone.  And good sleep promotes good health as well as our best daily performance of tasks.  This is especially important when folks are dealing with ASD.  So, when it comes to sleep and autism, it is important to establish a progressively relaxing bedtime routine for everyone, create a positive and comfortable sleeping environment unique to the individual, eliminate distractions, and if necessary, talk to your doctor about a melatonin supplement to assist the natural circadian rhythm of the body if that is lacking.  To learn more about how more severe autism affects sleep, visit the Interactive Autism Network.

Can I use a fitted bottom sheet only?

Can I use a fitted bottom sheet only?

are flat sheets necessary

Many folks wonder if they can use a fitted bottom sheet only?  Are flat bed sheets (top sheets) becoming a thing of the past?  While we are not seeing sheet sets packaged that way yet, it does seem that there is a generational trend away from the use of flat sheets.  It is certainly an easy option for bunk beds but it seems to be more popular with other beds as well.  Although most folks do still use a flat sheet, the younger generation is often opting out of a flat sheet  So, are flat sheets necessary or even recommended?

Why would you want to use a flat sheet?

    • A flat sheet feels good against your skin, especially if you are sleeping under a blanket or textured comforter. Bed sheets are commonly made of cotton, linen, silk, or bamboo (breathable fabrics ). On the other hand, many synthetic fabrics are used in comforters which can make them feel scratchy or irritable to the skin.
    • A flat sheet can be enough on a hot summer night.  A cool, lightweight cotton sheet is just enough cover but not too much for hot nights when there is no air conditioning.
    • A flat sheet keeps the comforter/blanket/top cover cleaner.  This saves time and money when it comes to laundering heavier, bulkier bedding products like blankets and comforters.  The flat sheet acts as a hygienic barrier that can be washed frequently.
    • A flat sheet makes for better temperature control.  It traps cool air in warm weather and warm air in cold weather. Many folks think that extra layer is warmer but it’s just the opposite.

Why would you not want to use a flat sheet?

    • If you are a restless sleeper, a flat sheet can end up twisted and tousled at the foot end of the bed.  This can be very disruptive to your sleep. The flat sheet can even come untucked if the bed wasn’t made properly in the first place.  If sheets are too short for a mattress or they don’t tuck under enough, it only takes minimal movement to pull them out.
    • Many folks feel another layer is smothering and hot.  This has been proven to be incorrect. Again, the flat sheet traps a layer of air to act in a cooling or warming fashion.
    • A flat sheet can add time and difficulty to making the bed. If the bed is made properly and the sheets are tucked under well enough, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull up the flat sheet. If restless sleepers use the bed or the sheets aren’t tucked properly, the bed may need to be completely made each day.
    • A flat sheet is just an extra piece of laundry. True, but if you are not using the flat sheet, you do need to launder the comforter/blanket/top  cover more frequently and it is usually heavier, bulkier, and harder to wash. I personally dread washing comforters because often they fill the dryer making it hard to dry them evenly without a few checks and changes.  A trip to the laundromat is even more time consuming.

The Purpose of a Flat Sheet

The purpose of the flat sheet is to act as a hygienic barrier that keeps the bed clean and healthy while reducing the frequency of washing the heavier bedding.

Science does show that using a flat sheet is preferable because it deters microscopic life growth such as fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen soil, finishing chemicals, coloring chemicals, bodily excrements, and so forth that build up over time.  Even if you think you go to bed clean every night and sleep without animals in the bed, these microscopic organisms build up and produce an unhealthy sleeping environment very quickly.  So whether you are using the flat sheet or not,  the importance of refularly laundering bedding can’t be stressed enough.

Still don’t want to use a flat sheet?

If you do choose to use only a fitted sheet, duvet’s with removable covers seem to be the best option as they can be laundered as frequently as the fitted sheet and often, they feel as good as the sheets against your skin.  You won’t experience the heating and cooling effects of the flat sheet but at least you will have a more hygienic sleeping environment

are flat sheets necessary

ZipSheets Solve the Flat Sheet Dilemma

ZipSheets  give you the benefits of a flat sheet without the hassles that can come from using one.  ZipSheets are sewn together at the foot end so there is no need to tuck them and they won’t come untucked while sleeping.  This also reduces the incidence of the covers becoming tousled or tangled at the foot end for restless sleepers.  They go on as easily as a fitted sheet so no expert bed making skills are required.  They are easy to make up and they protect your comforter/blanket/top cover so it won’t have to be laundered as frequently.  They give you the benefit of temperature control as well and are easily laundered as one piece.  Sounds like a win win to me.

So while there are plenty of pros and cons in this flat sheet debate, it really comes down to personal preference.  But if you know the pros and cons of the flat sheet and are still on the fence about whether to use one, consider ZipSheets as a way to have the best of both worlds..  Shop the ZipSheets collections today!