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A Child with Autism Sleeping on the Floor? Here’s Why

May 13, 2024

Sleep challenges tend to be common when it comes to children with autism spectrum disorder. While there’s a wide range of sleep issues that present themselves, one of the most common involves the child with autism sleeping on the floor.

These sleep challenges can present problems for both the children and their parents. But there are ways to help support your child as they endure these issues.

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Autism and sleep issues

Studies show as much as 80 percent of autistic children will experience some type of sleep challenge

These issues can range from insomnia to inability to stay asleep or unusual sleep patterns. The reasons for these problems can vary, from sensory sensitivities to the child’s own preferences.

From personal experience, my youngest son has experienced many of these issues, including a stretch where he refused to fall asleep in his own bed. While he never slept on the floor, he would fall asleep on a couch or chair and then let us move him to his bed.

But, much like a child sleeping on the floor, it raised some questions about why he chose to fall asleep this way.

Why is a child with autism sleeping on the floor?

This is a question every parent will ask if their child chooses to sleep on the floor. But what are some possible causes for this decision?

1. Sensory processing disorder

Many children will experience increased sensitivities to sensory stimuli. The bed may trigger sensory issues for these children, making it harder for them to stay asleep. The child may sleep on the floor to avoid these sensory triggers.

2. Bed temperature

Have you ever gotten too warm while trying to sleep? Temperature regulation can be challenging for autistic children. Many of them may experience a bed that is too hot and sleep on the floor to feel cooler.

3. Personal preference

Some children may just simply prefer sleeping on the floor. Maybe they have a very soft bed, and the hard floor feels more comfortable for them.

A young boy sleeping on the floor https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-sleeping-on-the-floor/(opens in a new tab)

Sometimes, a child may choose to sleep on the floor because it provides a sense of security that increases the chances of a good night’s sleep.

Risks and concerns with sleeping on the floor

While an autistic child may prefer to sleep on the floor, it can still lead to other issues that may disturb a child’s sleep. Some of these disturbances include:

  • lack of quality sleep,
  • discomfort,
  • exposure to allergens.

Lack of quality sleep

Studies have found the floor can lead to less restful sleep for some autistic children. This can lead to other issues including increased struggling with emotional regulation or social skills. The lower quality of sleep can also help contribute to anxiety issues.

Discomfort

While children, even those with autism spectrum disorder, may be able to bounce back from sleeping in unusual ways, sleeping on the floor can still lead to physical pain or discomfort.

Some of these kids may not be able to communicate they are in pain and may also have trouble associating that pain with sleeping on the floor.

Exposure to allergens

Some children may be allergic to mold or dust. Sleeping on the floor may put the child closer to mold or dust, increasing their exposure to those allergens.

How to manage sleeping on the floor

A child with autism sleeping on the floor can lead to issues with safety, comfort, and hygiene. But there are some tools you can use to encourage your child to fall asleep somewhere other than the floor.

1. Weighted blankets

Some children may need pressure applied to stay in their beds. A soft, weighted blanket may help relieve anxiety for kids at bedtime and provide a sense of security that may be missing when they normally lay in bed.

2. Sensory sheets

If weighted blankets are not the answer, some children with autism sleep better with sensory sheets. These sheets can help the child sleep without tossing and turning too much. They also tend to adjust to the child’s comfort level.


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3. Sleepytime pillow

Certain pillows are filled with fragrances associated with sleep to help encourage children with autism to use them in bed. These fragrances can often lead to more restful sleep and reduced anxiety.

4. Beds and mattresses

There are also specialized beds and mattresses created to help an autistic child fall asleep and stay in bed. My son has a Noah’s bed, or tent bed, that helps keep him safe.

It became a necessity as he would often get up in the middle of the night, leading to sleep deprivation for my wife and me. This type of bed can also be used to help make sure the child doesn’t climb out of bed and sleep on the floor. 

Patience and understanding for a good night’s sleep

It’s important to remember there is nothing inherently wrong with your child wanting to sleep on the floor. Many times, they are just uncomfortable and are looking for a way to feel safer and better while sleeping.

However, sleeping on the floor may not always be the best option. It will take patience and understanding to help your autistic children recognize a bed is a better option.

Helping them understand may take time, and like anything else related to autism, may see some setbacks. These are normal. As long as parents persist in helping their children feel safe, we can go a long way in helping children with autism find comfort in their own beds.

FAQs

Q: Do autistic people sleep differently?

A: People with autism often struggle with sleep disturbances. These can include insomnia, waking up in the middle of the night, or sleeping in a place other than a bed.

Q: Do autistic people dream less?

A: While it’s not entirely clear if people with autism dream less than neurotypical people, research has found people with autism are less likely to remember their dreams.

Q: When do sleep problems start in autism?

A: There’s no set age when sleep issues officially begin for children on the autism spectrum. However, many children begin showing the first signs of sleep problems around the age of two.

Q: How much sleep does an autistic child need?

A: While the average child between the ages of two and a half years to five years old needs 11 hours of sleep, research has found many children with autism need less sleep to function. However, the exact amount is not known.

References:

Chen, H., Yang, T., Chen, J. et al. Sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorder: a multicenter survey. BMC Psychiatry 21, 406 (2021).

Navjot Sidhu, Zoe Wong, Amanda E. Bennett, Margaret C. Souders, Sleep Problems in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Pediatric Clinics of North America, Volume 71, Issue 2, 2024, Pages 253-268, ISSN 0031-3955, ISBN 9780443184093, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2024.01.006.

Sleep Disturbances in Children Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/psychiatry/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.736696/full

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