Everyone wants to have a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, children with autism are prone to experiencing difficulties sleeping well.
While only about 10 percent of children suffer from having trouble sleeping, up to 86 percent of children with autism have problems with their sleep.
When your child suffers from sleep problems, the whole family is affected. For the sake of your child’s sleep health and your family’s, learn how to help your child combat their sleeping issues.
How do I know my child is suffering?
The signs should be fairly obvious, but a first-time parent may not know the difference between a stubborn child who occasionally puts up a fight to go to sleep and a child who is suffering from insomnia.
If your child takes a long time to fall asleep at night, wakes up frequently throughout the night, rises earlier than the sun regularly, and is irritable during the day, these are signs they are suffering from insomnia. Your child will also exhibit common signs of sleep deprivation: trouble concentrating, low energy, and moodiness.
Why do autistic children have difficulties sleeping?
People with autism generally don’t experience the same amount of restorative sleep as the general population. Only about 15 percent of their time sleeping is spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage as opposed to the 23 percent of REM stage sleep that the general population experiences. This deep sleep is vital for processing new information and retaining memories.
Children with autism often are affected by other conditions as well which may be contributing to their difficulties sleeping well. If your child suffers from other conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, or gastrointestinal complications, these could be preventing their sleep. Medications associated with some conditions, such as ADHD, are stimulants which would affect your child as well.
Sensitivity to sensory perceptions also may be disrupting your child. There may be too much light, noise, circulating air, or an uncomfortable texture bothering them.
How do I help my child sleep better?
It’s likely that you will need to consult with a licensed professional or sleep specialist to treat your child’s insomnia, especially if medications or other conditions are at play.
Before seeking treatment, you can try to adjust your child’s sleeping environment. Infants may benefit with a silky blanket, a light lavender mist in the air, or an advanced mobile that promotes safety, sensory interaction, and comfort. As your child grows and develops, they may be able to help you figure out what they need by expressing their concerns to you.
Your child may be bothered by excessive light or noise in which case you can hang up blackout curtains and utilize a white noise machine to mask disruptive noises. If sensory issues are the problem, you can let them pick out new bedding or a new bed with a different firmness level that would be more comfortable to them, especially if they are a side sleeper as this position often causes discomfort with the wrong bed.
It’s important that you help your child develop healthy sleeping habits by reducing snacks, caffeine, and exposure to television or other blue light sources near bedtime. Keep your child on a routine schedule of going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day to help adjust their sleeping cycling. Instead of turning on the television or allowing your child to play on electronic devices at night, read to them or let them read a book. You can also promote better sleep by having them take a warm bath or giving them a supplement like melatonin (perhaps consult with your child’s doctor first).
If you try adjusting your child’s environment and sleep schedule and they still experience difficulties sleeping well at night, consult with a licensed professional to help determine what’s disrupting your child and how to combat it.
Author’s bio: Laurie Larson is a freelance writer based in NC who writes on home, health, and lifestyle topics.
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