Children With ASD Suffer From Sleeplessness
If you are a parent to an autistic child this may come as no surprise to you, especially if your child has severe ASD. Children with autism are proven to have problems sleeping, and sometimes these children cause us sleeplessness. If your bedroom is close to your child’s room, you likely hear them in the middle of the night and wake from their noise on a nightly schedule. But what causes these problems? Why do autistic kids not sleep well? What can we do?
What causes autistic children to not sleep through the night?
I was going through the web for autism news today and stumbled on a scientific journal called autism research. Granted, it’s not the easiest thing to read, but it has some good information on the reasons why kids with ASD suffer in this way. The authors analyzed data from 2714 children with ASD symptoms and found that the children with more severe autism slept less than their peers with less severe autism. The children who slept more than 11 hours per night were compared to the children sleeping less than 7 hours per night; the researchers found that the children sleeping less score lower on IQ, had a higher severity of social impairment, and more repetitive behaviors than the children who tend to sleep more.
What does that mean, exactly? What it means is that kids with more severe autism have more trouble sleeping. But why? Here are some things that could cause sleeplessness in your child.
When a family is spending time together and it starts getting late, some family members eventually tire and decide to go to sleep. This cues to the other family members that it’s late and they need to sleep too. This is a social cue that most of us catch on to and we will actually start to become tired just because everyone else is going to sleep.
Your children with ASD may not receive this cue as well as the rest of us due to the fact that autistic children have trouble with social cueing.
Children with ASD are thought to have irregular secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone used by your body to regulate sleep. In a child with autism, the body may send too much melatonin at inappropriate times, or send too little when it is time to sleep.
Children with severe repetitive or compulsive behaviors may be especially susceptible to bad sleeping habits.
You are well aware of the sensory aspect of autism if you have a child within the autism spectrum. These kids are often overly sensitive to noise, light, and touch, which can be an issue with falling asleep. Cars driving by at night, creaking floors, and any other number of disturbances in the night could affect your child far greater than it would you.
What can you do to help your child sleep?
There are a few things you can do to remedy your child’s issues. One of them is to take a sleep diary to really see how much your child is sleeping, during the day and at night. Once you have some good data it will be easier to tackle your child’s issues.
One of the best ways to treat any problem associated with autism is consistency. Children with ASD have the greatest need for a consistent routine to function well. This applies to sleep, too. Get your kid on a consistent sleep routine. This doesn’t just mean putting them to bed at the exact same time every night, it means the child should be able to expect a series of activities before bed every night. Maybe they first take a bath, then they brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, and then you read them a story every night before bed. This can help your child to start anticipating sleep and help their brain to start producing the needed hormone melatonin.
Some other things you can do is to make your child more comfortable while sleeping. You can take into consideration their heightened senses and reduce the amount of light, noise, and even smell that would keep them awake. Black-out curtains are useful for windows to keep the headlights from cars going by from getting into your child’s room and waking them. You might be tempted to use a white-noise generator to help your child with noise, but this might not be the best option since it could be bothersome to their heightened hearing sense. One thing you could do, though, would be noise-canceling headphones, which add pressure when it’s placed on your child’s head which we have found to have a calming effect, and it would also obviously reduce irritating noise. (of course we realize that this might be uncomfortable to sleep in, but it’s worth it to experiment with if your child likes it.) An option for smell would be to buy a diffuser to release a calming essential oil (like lavender) into the room at night. You can find a diffuser on Amazon.
If you want some more help on controlling noise for your child you can check out friendshipcircle.org’s article on noise control here. Let us know what topics you want us to write on! Always stay engaged! It takes an army to raise a child with autism.