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.