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April is National Autism Awareness Month
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Children’s Sleep – Autistic child not sleeping
Children with autism not sleeping can be a real problem. We look at some of the reasons here why Autistic children may not sleep well.
Most of us are aware that sleep problems among children and adolescents are very common. Vicky Dawson, Founder of the Children’s Sleep Charity and sleep expert told us, “Research continues to show that almost 40% of children experience sleep disturbance at some point in their childhood, however this increases to 86% of children with special needs.”
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are reportedly as high as 80% likely to suffer sleep disturbance issues. However, this doesn’t just effect the individual child. Other children within the family, and their parents are often impacted.
Insufficient sleep in developing children can result in daytime sleepiness, learning difficulties and behavioural issues such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness and aggression. All of which can result in the child falling behind in school or struggling in other areas.
There are many potential reasons for poor sleep in children with ASD (Autism).
If you are searching for help for the search term “autistic child not sleeping” then follow the information below. These include neurological, behavioural and medical. Some early studies have suggested possible abnormalities in the systems of the brain which regulate sleep patterns. Due to the importance of sleep and children with ASD there are studies underway to evaluate the levels of hormones such as melatonin and other chemicals released by the brain and known to affect sleep.
Behavioural issues are known to affect sleep hygiene. Organisations such as The Children’s Sleep Charity are working to help professionals understand how to support parents with sleep deprived children. We will mention some good sleep hygiene ideas later in this piece.
Parents can also consider some of the medication their child is taking could be making them more alert and perhaps preventing them from falling asleep easily. In addition to this, certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy or gastroesophageal reflux can disrupt sleep.
Anxiety and depression can interfere with sleep and are often associated with children with ASD. Finally, the same common sleep disturbance issues found in the general population shouldn’t be discounted. These are things like sleep walking, nightmares and sleep apnoea.
One of the first things a parent can do, is find out how much sleep their child should be getting and then start to look at recommended good sleep hygiene practices. The National Sleep Foundation recommends pre-school children have between 11 – 13 hours’ sleep a night and school age between 10 and 11 hours.
We have often written about good tips for improving sleep quality and getting a good night’s sleep, and have summarised these here.
- The bedroom: Where you sleep is important. Ideally the bedroom should be dark, cool and calm. Children with ASD can have sensory issues, so having a familiar, calm sleeping environment is very important.
What the experts say:
A lot of parents have written to us over the years explaining how Snuggle Sacs can help accommodate their child’s sensory issues and keep them in their own familiar space at the same time.
In fact, this was one of the things Lauren Allen liked best. Laura is a Consultant Behavioural Analyst, and Co-Founder of an online market place to support families of special needs children. She continually identifies sleep aids to support children achieve a more peaceful and comfortable sleep so they are alert during her therapy hours.
Laura said, “From my experience, children on the spectrum who struggle with sleep tend to have sensory regulation difficulties. In these cases, gentle massage and cuddles seem to calm the nervous system promoting sounder sleep. Some children love the feeling of being wrapped up and cocooned in a soft sleeping bag. Whilst looking for suitable products for inclusion on Rosy and Bo l found Snuggle Sac, a useful and life enhancing product. An aspect l like the most are the two sizes, a small toddler Sleeping bag and a larger size Snuggle Sac which means the transition from a cot or toddler bed to an average size bed is less anxiety inducing and less of a change
Vicky Dawson, Sleep Expert also told us, “A common problem that can disturb sleep patterns are when duvets are kicked off during the night. The Snuggle Sac alleviates this by providing children with a consistent sleep environment which is essential for restful sleep. Familiarity and routine are also important for children, and children with ASD, to sleep well and the Snuggle Sac is fully transportable meaning it can be taken with you for sleepovers, car journeys and holidays.
Bedtime Routine: –
Children respond well to routine and will sleep better if they have a set pattern of relaxing activities before bed. Maybe reading, a jigsaw, quiet music and a bath. Watching TV and playing electronic computer games may sound relaxing, but it is a stimulation.
Going to Bed and Getting up –
It is a good idea to stick to a set bedtime, and a waking up time. However much we love our weekends it is important to try and stick to these times.
Teach your child to fall asleep alone.
It will be much easier for you and your child if they can learn to fall asleep on their own. If they wake in the night, it means they are much more likely to get themselves back to sleep. It is also important to try and get your child to sleep in their own bed. If this is an issue which is causing problems, you may be interested in this article.
Exercise and Fresh Air:
Getting out and about during the day and having a good run around will help your child get a much better night’s sleep. However, this doesn’t mean running about late at night!
It may not be obvious, but caffeine can be found in chocolate and some fizzy drinks. It is therefore important to watch what snacks your child has before bed. We have a previous blog piece written by a nutritionist about what to eat to help your child get a good night’s sleep.
It has long been perceived as a myth that removing a day time nap will help your child sleep better. This isn’t true, it can make them get over tired and more hyperactive. However, it is a good idea to make sure it is an early afternoon nap and isn’t for too long.
In summary, there are quite a few practical areas parents can help their children if they are struggling with sleep disturbance issues. We hope that you have found our article on “autistic child not sleeping” useful and welcome you to share this.