As a parent of an autistic teen, my sleeping habits aren’t perfect and have come a long way from when our son was a small child, but definitely could be improved. Surveys report that up to 83 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience trouble sleeping and that as parents of these populations, that we are the most stressed and sleep deprived of them all. If you are stressed out already, this is definitely going to affect your sleep habits and this cycle cannot continue because eventually something will break.
For (ASD) individuals, sleep deprivation effects learning, memory, social skills and more. Whether your child struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep it can be a pain in the you know what to find a balance and strong routine.
Establish a Routine
Consistency is key, so establishing a schedule is important. For instance, depending on your ASD child’s age, reading a book or listening to calming music gets the child ready for nighttime sleep or having them read a book right before bed. Whether it’s bath time or story time, incorporate rituals that encourage calming the body for sleep onset.
Fade Problematic Sleep Patterns/Associations
Establishing a bedtime routine is essential and becomes familiar to children as they become accustomed to schedules and sleep environments that usually involve the presence of a caregiver or parent, such as being rocked or fed. If you find yourself having difficulty in this particular area, when it comes to keeping your ASD child asleep, no matter the sleep routine, it would probably be a good idea to seek out a BCBA or other type of behavior aide to help you and your significant other to hopefully gain more sleep hours.
Create a Sanctuary
Take a close look at your child’s bedroom to see how you can make it more ‘sleep friendly’.
- Think quiet, dark and cool. Soundproof the room from household noises, pets and noisy traffic.
- Eliminate light sources by covering windows with dark shades and blacking out pilot lights with electrical tapes.
Get the Right Light
It is important to avoid electronic screens and light sources within an hour of bedtime to allow melatonin to prepare your brain and body for sleep. It’s equally important to get adequate light exposure during the day, especially first thing in the morning. Depending on where you live, sometimes you may not receive that needed light exposure to get your melatonin going and in gear properly. Sometimes people rely on a type of light called light therapy.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is usually used as a sedative rather than a supplement. Ideally a well-balanced diet and appropriate light exposure should be enough to prime the body for sleep at night, but in an individual with ASD, their levels of melatonin are very low. The use of melatonin has been found to significantly improve the quality and quantity of sleep-in ASD children and/or teens with minimal to no side effects.
Allow Growth Hormone to Dictate your Day
Growth hormone, as the name suggests, is a key player in bodily growth and restoration. This hormone secreted in adolescents around midnight, blocks the release of melatonin, inhibiting sleep until the wee hours of the morning. Ideally, adolescents should sleep well into the morning in order to get the sleep they need.
When Is it Time to Speak to a Doctor?
If it feels like you have tried everything, and your ASD child or teen is still struggling to get a full night’s rest then it is time to get professional help from a pediatrician, family doctor as well as a sleep lab.
Try to keep a list of your ASD son or daughter’s sleep patterns and times that they occur. This way you will have more thorough documentation for the doctor to examine; therefor giving them a more likely picture of what types of sleep patterns to look for and the better they can help.
As a parent, only you know how your child sleeps and/or what works or doesn’t. Implementing some of the above strategies into your routine may/may not help but may get you closer to getting a restful full night of blissful sleep. Not only for you, but your ASD child/teen as well.