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Sleep Strategies for Managing PDA

Sleeping Child

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sleep strategies for managing PDA are absolutely essential in our house.  Our son has ASD with Demand Avoidance Traits.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD was the original diagnosis that we received back in May 2017.  It confirmed what we already knew but, now that it was official, we were in a better position to be able to get him some help.

He’s never slept very well and has always had severe separation anxiety.  As soon as he was able, he would climb out of his cot and into his twin sister’s cot and that’s where he would sleep.  Without that comfort and security, he found sleep very difficult.

Right from when they were born, we put our kids into a routine, for our benefit, not theirs!  At the time, I had horses and, as anyone with horses will know, routine is key.  Without that routine, I’m not sure that I would have coped.  So, routines are something that we have had in our lives for a long time.  This meant that, when we received the diagnosis of ASD, we weren’t too phased when people started talking to us about the need for strict routines.

Bedtime Routine

People on the spectrum benefit greatly from routine.  This led us to the bedtime routine, a logical step as our son had issues with sleeping.  To remove the anxiety associated with uncertainty, we implemented a routine along these lines:

  • First came supper
  • Then a set bath time
  • Followed by story time
  • An agreed story time location (usually all sat on my bed)
  • Then into bed and lights out

To begin with, this was relatively successful, especially for our daughter!  We had some great story times.  I really valued that quiet time with my kids.  But, then, things started to deteriorate, albeit gradually.


To begin with, it was just little things. Before the bedtime routine actually started, he’d shut himself in the toilet as a delaying tactic.  We’d finally get him into bed only to have him get out of bed and come down stairs because he was thirsty.  We’d find him sleeping on the floor.  The dark started to become really scary, then, things started escalating.

He’d draw out supper time, he wouldn’t want to get in the bath.  He was argumentative at story time, sometimes about the story, the page we had got to, the location of story time, the length of story time etc.  Getting into bed became a drama with tears and high anxiety.  Nightmares and night terrors dramatically increased, meltdowns got much much worse.  Problems at school were escalating.  All of a sudden, we were forced to acknowledge that something wasn’t quite right.  The strict routine just wasn’t cutting it anymore.


We started to implement strategies to try and improve the situation.

First we went for essential oils and a night light diffuser.  The one that we chose cycled through about 7 different colours in a very rhythmical fashion.  That, coupled with the relaxing essential oil that we used, had a relaxing and comforting effect on him.  You can find a similar item here at

Then we introduced magnesium bath salts to his bath.  This had a soothing effect on him and he started to look forward to bath time again.

We used his obsessional interest in a tv series and bought the soundtrack, along with other songs by the artist, and put them onto an mp3 player.  We chose an mp3 player rather than putting it on his phone as we were determined to stop him taking his phone up to his room.  After all, everything says that screen time should be stopped at least an hour before bed.  The music was a success – we now know all the songs word for word as it played constantly.

Each of the strategies worked to a certain extent as they all provided comfort and familiarity to him.  The problems came, however, if we ran out of bath salts or essential oils or we forgot to charge the mp3 player or the attached speaker.  These mistakes gave him a reason to become anxious again.

More Strategies Needed

I then did what I always do and referred to google for help!  I carried out a lot of research on sleeping issues and found out about colours and their effects on sleep. Autism Parenting Magazine has a great article which I found extremely helpful.  You can find it here.  This is where my ideas regarding colours came from. We decided to completely redecorate his room.  We used off white for his ceiling, green on his walls and the woodwork is blue.  He was included in the colour choices.  We gave him options so that he had an element of control.  He has a blackout blind so that the light outside does not act as a trigger for not sleeping.  We went to Carpetright and he chose his carpet.  That was an experience in itself as he went round the shop feeling everything!  When he found something that he liked he had to put his feet on it to check that it felt ok.  Luckily for us, we had an extremely understanding salesman.

We’ve changed his bed and bought him a lovely new mattress.  There’s a slight issue here in that his old mattress has had to go under the new one.  He will not let us throw out his old mattress.  But, it’s still a lovely bed and new mattress.

My lovely Osteopath, Reena of R J Osteopathic Clinic, recommended a book and CD called Sitting Still Like a Frog.  It’s all about Mindfulness and you can find it on  Before we started the bed time routine, my son and I would sit and listen to the CD together.  I think that it was helping me more than him but, it did provide quiet time and he would sit with me while we listened.  I also took him to Reena for a couple of sessions of cranial osteopathy which he found very helpful.

Sleep Strategies for Managing PDA

I would like to stress that all of these strategies worked to an extent but nothing was consistent.  Once we learnt about PDA, we began to understand why.  People that present with this profile have an anxiety based need to be in control.  The National Autistic Society (NAS) have some fantastic information on the profile and you can read up about it by clicking here to be taken to the relevant page on their site.

With this new found information, we began to look at what we were expecting of our son.  It was filled with demands – no wonder he was having so many problems.  We hadn’t given him any opportunities to try and control his world.

Sleep Strategies for Managing PDA

What we then did seemed completely alien to us and, I’m sure, will seem so to you too.  We removed all demands.  We put together a list of 4 Absolute Rules that are not to be broken by anyone.  Everything else is negotiable.

This is where the phrase “picking your battles” came in.  All of our problems are made 10 times worse when our son is tired.  He is tired because he doesn’t sleep.  Therefore, our first priority is to improve his sleep.  We had lots of strategies in place but, what we hadn’t allowed for, was for him to retain some element of control.

First we stopped telling him it was bath time.  At the end of the day, it is more important for him to get some sleep than to make sure he is clean.  We simply introduced the line: “Would you like a bath or shower this evening?”  Then, rather than waiting for a reply, we continued with what we had been doing.  He would then, more often than not, make a choice – usually a bath.

We no longer informed him that it was bedtime.  What we found was that by giving him the choice of a bath or shower, he would invariably choose a bath.  I would then just say to him that I was going to run his bath for him, would he like bath salts or no bath salts.  He’d make a choice therefore retaining some control.  I’d simply say that I was going to run his bath and that I’d let him know when it was ready.  He then chose when he was ready having been informed that the longer he left it, the colder it would get.


The results were staggering.  What we found was that by simply introducing these changes, he would then have his bath and put himself to bed.  We stopped taking his phone away as that is a battle for another day – I know this is controversial but, what we are doing is working and that is what is important.   Once he was in bed, we simply said: “Light on or off” and again, he would make a choice.  It started out that he would say off but, currently, he is saying on. We are not making an issue of it.

When we then go to bed, we simply inform him of this, if he is still awake, which, more often than not now, he isn’t!  If, however, he is awake, we’ll say something along the lines of: “we’re going to bed now, would it be ok if we turned your light off so that it doesn’t disturb us?”  So far, no problems.

I cannot over emphasise the progress that we have made here.  His sleep has improved dramatically.  There are currently no arguments over him having his phone charger in his room – something which terrifies me.  He is much more relaxed when he wakes up which is huge progress!

I’m not saying that things are perfect as, believe me, they are not but, they are very slowly, bit by little bit, improving.

I hope that you find some of these strategies useful.  If you have something that you have found to work that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to pop it in the comments below.  Let’s all help each other.

Here’s to next time, keep going and stay strong.




  1. Ross Wells
    2nd September 2020 / 8:20 pm

    Thank you for this. I have a PDA daughter who seems to want to sleep in the day and be awake at night. We are on holiday currently and as I am a single mum, limited time everything

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      21st December 2020 / 8:24 am

      It’s really not easy. I hope that my article has helped.

  2. Marysia Taylor-Cooke
    11th September 2021 / 3:02 am

    Thank you for your words. 🌷 Like you, I started with a solid bedtime routine, but gradually the routine &, more significantly, my energy levels were eroded away. Now my PDA son is 11. Despite having a lovely bed & memory foam mattress he puts himself to sleep on the sofa or wrapped around our dog on the floor. He sleeps when he is ready. He falls asleep with his tablet by his head, listening to & watching Roblox. My desire to share a bedtime story fell flat every time. I’ve never really managed to read my boy a bedtime story – much to my sadness. He loves the night – the quiet & dark. He is often awake until many hours past midnight…… the only light on in the street. I’m the eccentric neighbour who walks her dog at 2am. It’s clear to me, that I need more sleep than my 2 ASD boys – who seem to naturally need not much more than 6 hours a night. I invariably fall asleep first ……… often on the sofa…….. & usually exhausted. Bath-time is a rare, almost non-existant event – I run the bath, but no-one comes. So, we go swimming. Like you, I have a burner and oils which I love. They soothe me, if nothing else. I will fall asleep tonight listening to pink noise. It’s 3am & both my boys are still awake ……. we live in our own PDA world. I – “half sleep”. It’s like doing an overnight coach journey – but every night Calm & strength to you all xxx

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      22nd October 2021 / 6:35 pm

      It really is a struggle. Our son, now 15 (almost 16) still doesn’t sleep. He has been prescribed Melatonin but he rarely takes it as this is something he can control. He often will go to bed in his clothes so that he doesn’t have the demand in the morning of choosing clothes. I’m in a constant state of exhaustion, like yourself, as I rarely sleep properly. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Please remember, you are not alone. Sending you strength. x

  3. Debbie brown
    19th November 2021 / 12:53 pm

    My daughter is 13 recently diagnosed with ocd and autism and now looking into PDA. Bedtime is a nightmare. I give her notice of roughly when she needs to get ready but the mere mention of it sends her into a meltdown. Like the previous reply I often leave her to sleep in her clothes for calm for both of us. She has compulsions she starts to do then starts banging on the glass door while I’m trying to stop her. It ends when I ring my married daughter to help calm her then the masking starts and shel do it. Obviously not a good solution but as a loss as to what to do. I will definitely try your suggestions. Thank you

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      2nd December 2021 / 7:38 pm

      I’m so humbled to have you share part of your journey with me. I know only to well how stressful and challenging the journey you face. I’ve mentioned this many times – the one biggest piece of advice I can give is to pick your battles. When someone asks me what is PDA I often give the explanation as follows: its like a bank. You have demands which are deposits within the bank. Once the deposits are used up there is no more capacity. This is why I always suggest that you pick your battles – don’t waste the deposits. I hope that my suggestions help guide you to finding solutions that are acceptable to your daughter and you. Please remember, you are doing a great job and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. x

  4. Katie
    27th January 2023 / 9:04 pm

    It is so useful to read other people’s experiences of PDA. My son is 7 and we are waiting for a diagnosis. Sleep has always been so challenging but because he won’t be alone I am still having to sit with him every night for the lengthy process of falling asleep. Then when he inevitably wakes during the night he will not go to sleep unless I sleep with him. He woke up at 3.45 this morning and would not go back to sleep. He instantly wants to get out of his room despite the fact we have gone everything to make a space he would like.
    Also, his anger and meltdowns are getting so much worse, it’s affecting our whole family and our 10yr old son is getting quite down with all the daily shouting and aggression.
    Any tips or advice would be gratefully recieved.
    One tired mumma here.

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      28th January 2023 / 1:53 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing. It is so difficult because each child is so different. Also, we have found that what works one day will not work the next. It can be really soul-destroying. However, I will say that it does get easier as they age. Our son has started to develop his own strategies to help himself. I’m still on call 24/7, and sometimes it feels like this will never change but deep down, I know it will improve. All I can say is keep going, grab sleep when you can, and rotate the strategies you use to help the situation.

  5. Sharon
    20th May 2023 / 7:54 am

    My 12 year old is just diagnosed ASD In Jan. we have been on the list since 2018. His school placement broke down in November and he is home Ed. I am more and more believing his is PDA. Sleep is our main hurdle. He always used to sleep with me and I’d continually remind him that he needed to fall asleep. He has just started sleeping in his own room and he is still awake every night without fail at gone 3am! He has a tv on and has his phone. He is just lying there scrolling through Tik toks usually. He got himself a paper round but hasn’t done it in a week as he won’t get up. Summer is coming and he’s missing out on so much because he will be asleep all day. I work and so have to try and sleep ag night as I’m exhausted. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      27th October 2023 / 8:04 am

      Thank you so much for sharing your struggles with us. I really do feel for you. Trying to juggle the stress of helping our kids while working is a really tall order. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to go out to work as such, I was running my own business which had to go on hold. Sleep is such a major issue. You’ve made enormous progress now that he is sleeping in his own room, this really should not be undervalued. Have you spoken to your GP about the issue? For a while our son went on to Melatonin which helped until he refused to take it. Sleep is still an ongoing issue for us but it has improved. Please don’t beat yourself up, if it is PDA, it will take time. If it’s not PDA it will still take time. Try to take time out for yourself, I know that is easier said than done, but you are also important and running on empty is not a good place to be.

  6. 17th October 2023 / 7:43 am

    Sleep Strategies for Managing PDA” on ADashOfPDA offers valuable advice for parents and caregivers of children with PDA. The strategies presented are sensitive and practical, catering to the unique needs of these children.

    • Lyn Haslegrave
      27th October 2023 / 7:52 am

      Thank you so much for this lovely review!

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