Sleep is one of the most treasured moments in people’s life. It is during sleep that the body can rest and restore itself for the next day. Unfortunately, for some adults and children, this can be extremely difficult, for either falling asleep or sleeping through the entire night. These sleep disorders can be more common for those diagnosed with autism. More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, and it is estimated that up to 80% of young people with ASD can present difficulty for falling or keeping asleep during the recommended 8 hours per day.
Lack of sleep brings several issues and can be even harder for ASD patients. Aggression, hyperactivity, and lack of concentration are some of the most common increased behavioral characteristics.
Associated Factors to Sleep Disorders
Several factors can be related to sleep disturbance in people within the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society mention some of them as:
- Neurological issues and disorders; as attention deficit and hyperactivity
- Anxiety, stress, depression and some other medical problems such as reflux and constipation
- The autism itself, including lack of a consistent routine
- Exhaustion, difficulty in learning and memory issues
All of these issues combined together can make it very hard to cope with typical daily basis tasks, including school, work, and sleep.
Managing A Sleep Disorder
From lifestyle to natural sleep aids, there are several things you can do to help your child have a better sleep.
Environment and surroundings play a significant role in sensory stimulation, and it can make it harder for autistic people to relax and find it comfortable enough to stay asleep. You can follow some tips as block out light with dark curtains, reduce noises or smell coming to the bedroom and remove anything that usually stimulates the child to be awake or highly excited about. Some relaxation techniques can include a warm bath, book reading, gentle massage, and soft music.
Turn off screens
Tablets, TV, videogames are all over-stimulating activities. You should shut them off at least one hour before bedtime. This might have to involve the entire family in the beginning, but with time and routine, it can become a usual habit for the child.
Establish a routine
A routine is reassuring for kids. Some children might feel anxious about bedtime because they don’t know what will happen. This is even more important in ASD cases. A stable routine will help reducing stress and will be part of the learning process. Make visual timetables, as this can support you and the child to follow the schedule easier. Teach them to sleep in their own room and eventually by themselves.
Deep Pressure Therapy (DTP) is usually recommended to reduce anxiety and stress. It consists of basically any gentle pressure across the body, like a massage or hug. A weighted blanket can deliver a deep pressure touch during bedtime, calming the child’s nervous system and support better sleep. Studies have proved that this gentle pressure can promote feelings of safety, relaxation, and comfort. This is a perfect solution not only for autism cases, but also for other conditions such as depression, insomnia, and chronic pain.
You can find some natural remedies in health food stores, which claims to help people have a better sleep. Before trying any of these solutions, it is recommended you discuss it with your GP first. These natural products might trigger side effects if combined with other medication your child might be taking.
Explain what sleep is
Some children might be scared of what they don’t fully understand. You can explain the need for a good night sleep, the stages of it and reassure this is a safe process. According to the National Autistic Society, a social story™ and visual supports can be used to explain how sleep works.
Keep a sleep diary
As you establish a routine, keep a diary documenting it. Write down any unusual sleep patterns and sleeping aids. These notes will help you identify possible negative and positive factors influencing your child’s sleep. It is also helpful as a tool to show doctors or eventual caregivers, in order to give them a clearer idea of sleep issues and its daily impact.
Autism limits a person’s ability to communicate and relate to the outside world. In a spectrum from mild to severe, it can be extremely hard for parents and caregivers to understand and help an autistic child. Behavioral therapies and visual programs can teach children how to talk, deal with emotions and increase social skills. Additional challenges as sleeping disorders are common but treatable. It requires some family effort and education, but it is highly prized by its results. Don’t hesitate in looking for help from credited organizations and doctors. For instance, weighted blankets are safe and therapeutic solution. You don’t need to go through this alone, and there are plenty of specialists that can help you and your family.