Skip to content
Sleeping is often a big issue with children with special needs, read our top tips to help your special needs child to sleep.

Sleeping is often a big issue with children with special needs, read our top tips to help your special needs child to sleep.


Sleep problems can unfortunately be a huge issue for special needs children and their parents. Needless to say, it can be very tiring! Your child may take a long time to fall asleep, wake frequently during the night, wake up for the day very early or not sleep at all. You’ll be well aware if your child does any of these things, but what are the other signs of sleep problems?

In this blog, SpecialKids Company list common sleep problems and tips on how to help you resolve them.


1. Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Although most children snore every once and a while, regular snoring shouldn’t be disregarded. It could be related to sleep apnea, which is pausing when breathing resulting in brief awakenings. Other signs of sleep apnea include bedwetting, sleepwalking, tiredness in the daytime, difficulty concentrating or behavioural issues (your child could be aggressive or hyperactive due to sleep deprivation). Sleep Apnea is common in children with Downs Syndrome affecting between 30 to 60 percent of children.

If you suspect that your child may have sleep apnea, it is important that you seek medical advice. It is likely that your child will be referred for a sleep study, which will monitor your child’s sleep pattern and bodily functions such as their heart rate when they are asleep.

A common cause of sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. If sleep apnea is confirmed, it is likely that an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist will explore options with you, such as a tonsillectomy or nasal prongs to help your child breath more easily during the night. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) may also be discussed, which is a machine and mask to aid breathing during the night.

If your child sleeps on their back, this may also cause them to snore. You could try moving them into a comfortable position on their side to see if it helps to resolve the snoring if it impacts on their sleep.

2. Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sleep

A large percentage of children with Autism have trouble at sleep time, this can occur for a variety of different reasons as children with Autism have an irregular circadian rhythm, anxiety, depression, epilepsy or acid reflux, all of which can interfere with sleeping well.

There are a number of lifestyle changes and natural sleep aids that can improve sleep time and quality for kids with autism:

  • Avoid giving your child stimulants such as caffeine and sugar before bed
  • Establish a nighttime routine
  • Help your child relax before bed by doing things such as giving a gentle massage, soft music or reading a book.
  • Shut down television, video games, and other stimulating
  • Prevent sensory distractions during the night
  • Make sure your child is comfortable, the right type of adaptive clothing can do wonders
  • Talk to a sleep psychologist

3. Sleepwalking in Children With Special Needs

Sleepwalking can occur at any age, but is most common in children. It can occur for a variety of reasons, such as sleep apnea, infections and fevers as well as stress and anxiety.

The level of sleepwalking varies widely from person to person. It may simply be your child sitting up in bed or it could be them getting up and walking about. Needless to say, it can be huge worry for parents.

There is no specific treatment for sleepwalking, however, if episodes occur regularly you should seek the advice of your GP who may refer your child for a sleep study to determine if there are any other underlying medical issues causing them to sleepwalk. If your child is at risk of injuring themselves, they may be prescribed medication such as benzodiazepines or antipressants, which may help your child to sleep and reduce the number of sleepwalking episodes.

The NHS states that you can help to try and prevent sleepwalking by:

  • Having a regular time for your child to go to bed
  • A dark and quiet room
  • Limiting drinks before bedtime, particularly caffeinated ones
  • Trying to find ways to relax your child before bed, such as a warm bath
  • If your child regularly sleepwalks around the same time each night, gently waking them 10-15 minutes before they usually do to try and hopefully alter the sleep cycle
  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may also help

4. Sleeping too much

Lots of children who struggle to sleep during the night or wake early, fall asleep during the day. Unfortunately, sleeping too much during the day can impact on your child’s sleeping at night. If possible, try to gently persuade them not to take naps and see if this helps to improve their sleep pattern.

If you are concerned with your child sleeping too much, it is important that you seek the advice of your GP.

5. Communication Difficulties

Communication difficulties are common in children with special needs. For example, some children with autism are unable to explain when they have night terrors, separation anxiety or a particular routine that they feel comforted by. They may also not be able to pick up on cues that it is bedtime.

You can help by trying to establish a regular bedtime routine with your child, when your child is sleepy but not over-tired. Give your child plenty of warning that bedtime is approaching. You could use a social story or PECS to aid communication.

For many, autism and sleep problems go hand-in-hand, so ensuring the environment is correct for your child is important. This may involve them having their favourite object to hand or wearing a specific pair of pyjamas. Aids such as Gro Clock, Fidget Bum bedding, weighted blanket (for safety reasons, your child should not sleep all night with one), a blackout blind and music may also help.

6. Bed Wetting and Continence Issues

Lots of children with special needs have continence issues. If your child is incontinent, it is important that your find the right products to keep them comfortable at night.

If they are prone to leaks or wetting the bed, special needs bedding may help, such as Kylie Bed Protection, a washable bed pad, which is a popular product amongst parents. Because “Kylie sheets” successfully move moisture away from the skin, they can help your child to have an uninterrupted sleep despite leakages or accidents.

For those who are prone to smearing, Zip Back Jumpsuits and Sleepsuits are highly recommended, making it difficult for children to access their nappy. You can also buy footed sleepsuits, which are great for colder weather if your child is prone to not keeping a duvet over them.

We hope that you have found this blog helpful. What advice would you give parents who have children who have sleep problems?

Previous article Pacifier and Bottle Weaning for Children with Autism