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As a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism is being diagnosed in kids of a younger age. While we are all aware that autism is something that can’t be cured by medicine, the involvement of different therapies and approaches can help with the condition. Depending on whether your child has nonverbal autism or another type, it is vital to monitor the potential triggers of exaggerated behaviors.
Only through monitoring will you be able to cope and control patterns that are related to autism. One of the most common issues related to it is sleep problems. As numerous studies suggest, insomnia in children with autism is not surprising as the hormonal imbalances and changes affect and restrict a healthy sleep pattern.
Still, that doesn’t mean that you or your child should give up just yet. While coping with insomnia can be quite tricky, in most cases, it comes down to making specific lifestyle changes and adapting to the stimuli environment. Therefore, to help you, we will discuss how can autism affect sleep problems as well as what the specific methods you should try are. Let’s get right to it.
Does Autism Really Affect Sleep?
The short answer to this question is — absolutely, it does affect sleep. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case in every single person that has autism, most children do have trouble either falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night and falling back to sleep again. This can be quite irritating given the fact that they will then be sleepy during the day, which can, in turn, trigger exaggerated behavior and anxiety.
Not only that, but a child that didn’t manage to get enough rest from the previous day will not be motivated and ready to interact with the environment, which only worsens the autistic disorder. In order to put an end to it, it is essential to determine the potential causes, and there are two main causes — one related to hormones, and the other is related to the stimuli in the room.
The first common trigger for sleep problems in autistic children is a melatonin imbalance. As you might know, adequate melatonin levels are what keeps us going during the day and motivate us to sleep during the night. In a non-autistic person, melatonin levels should be on the rise approaching the nighttime and then kept minimal while you are getting on with your daily routine.
However, children with autism seem to have low levels of melatonin when bedtime comes, which is why they have trouble falling and staying asleep. While there are specific methods of adjusting melatonin levels naturally, such as bright-light exposure therapy, the most popular one seems to be the use of melatonin supplements.
This is not something we would recommend right off the start — in our opinion, consulting a pediatrician before moving forward is your best bet. Only when there is no other solution, should you include supplements or sleep aids.
The second common trigger is heavy stimuli that are triggering your child and disrupting their sleep pattern. This is mostly the result of TV, video games, or playtime before it is time to sleep. As you likely know, autistic children are more reactive and sensitive to stimuli, which is why adjusting the environment before bedtime is essential.
Tips for Healthy Sleep Routine in Autistic Children
Now that we have determined the potential causes of sleeping problems, it is time to talk about several methods and lifestyle changes that may change it for the better.
The most important thing is that you keep a good track of what you feed or give your child to drink before bedtime. As with adults, sugary or caffeinated beverages will not only disrupt healthy sleep patterns but also result in an unwanted energy boost, that will keep them up for the whole night.
So unless you want your child jumping around, you should exclude these for at least a couple of hours before sleep. Additionally, try to give them a light meal an hour before the bedtime routine for two reasons: first, so they are not hungry, and second, because keeping the digestion process going can positively affect sleep patterns.
Our second piece of advice is that you should create a soothing and relaxing environment. As we mentioned above, autistic children are much more sensitive to light and sounds. For this reason, you will need to adjust this to create a healthy sleeping atmosphere.
Close the curtains, turn off the lamps, and any entertainment source, including a computer and TV. On the other hand, you can still keep some light and relaxing music going as it might prove beneficial towards getting your child to sleep.
Apart from creating an adequate environment, you should do your best to relax your child before bedtime. This could mean reading their favorite story, giving them a massage, or lying down with them until they fall asleep.
Last but not least, try to stay away from sleeping pills and melatonin supplements unless these are really necessary. While some medical drugs may be efficient when it comes to insomnia, certain side effects can trigger other issues with autism, which is why you shouldn’t use them before consulting a pediatrician.
For more information, check out the detailed webinar by Dr. Benjamin Black below 🙂
We all look forward to nighttime as that is when we get to relax and recharge our batteries for the next day. Therefore, helping your child fall asleep and getting the much-needed rest is your duty as a parent. In times it can be challenging, but as long as you follow these tips and ensure a relaxing and calming environment for your child, the results are sure to come once your autistic child has developed and acclimated to the environment around them. So, get ready for some good nights of sleep — because they are just around the corner.