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Helping Children with Autism Sleep Well

Most children with autism suffer from different kinds of sleep problems. Generally, children with autism have a hard time falling asleep. Either that or they keep waking up throughout the night. Some children may stay awake for a long time while some wake up very early. No matter what kind of difficulty the child is experiencing, it has an impact on all the members of the family.

Fortunately, there are many different ways parents can help their children sleep better. As a parent, it's your responsibility to help your child as much as you can. Children with autism already have a harder time than most. If they are sleep deprived, life for them becomes even more of a challenge. So it's vital to learn these methods so to help your child sleep throughout the night.

What causes the sleep deprivation?

Until today, researchers are still unsure of why children with autism experience sleep problems. But they do have a lot of theories about them. Here are some of those theories:
  • It may have something to do with social cues. Normally, people are aware when it's already time for sleep at night. They usually pick up the social cues such as the normal bedtime routines that other family members do. However, children with autism may not understand these cues. Since they have a hard time communicating, they might misinterpret or even fail to comprehend the actions of the people in their household.
  • It may also have something to do with melatonin. This is a hormone which normally aids in regulating a person's sleep-wake cycles. In order for the body to produce melatonin, it needs a specific kind of amino acid, tryptophan. But studies have shown that children with autism may have irregular quantities of tryptophan in their bodies. Because of this, the melatonin isn't produced and released at the right times of the day.
  • Another theory is that children with autism have a heightened sensitivity to external stimuli. Their sensitivity to sounds or tactile sensations may be the reason why they have difficulty falling asleep. This may also be the reason why they keep waking up throughout the night.
  • Finally, it may also have something to do with anxiety. Children with autism have more feelings of anxiety than those who don't. This can be another reason why they cannot sleep well.

What are the effects?

Sleep deprivation can have negative effects on people of any age. But it's especially dangerous for children. It can impact a child's health and quality of life. Children with autism need sleep as much as other children. When they are sleep-deprived, they may exhibit one or more of these characteristics:

  • Depression or irritability
  • Hyperactivity or aggression
  • Poor performance
  • Heightened occurrence of behavioral problems

Also, if your little one isn't sleeping well, chances are you're not sleeping well either. Research shows that parents of children with autism sleep less and wake up much earlier. Their quality of sleep is also a lot poorer.


How can you help your child?

Father and son in forest walking

With all this information, it's obvious why helping your child sleep better is vital. When your child is able to sleep throughout the night, it benefits the child as well as all the other people in the household. First off, medications for sleep should only be used when there is no other option. Also, you have to check with your child's pediatrician before giving your child any kind of pharmaceuticals. Here are some helpful tips for you to try out:

  • Avoid giving your child sugar-rich food and beverages right before bedtime. These kinds of food may act as stimulants, keeping your child alert and awake.
  • The use of Essential Oils like Lavender have been shown to help autistic children falling asleep easier. Either putting a few drops on the pillow before bedtime or using an oil diffuser on the bed side table will not only help falling asleep but also experiencing a stronger sleep and not wake up that easily.
  • Set a routine for bedtime. You may start with a bath then a bedtime story. It's also important to put your child to bed at the same time nightly. When establishing a bedtime routine, make sure it's not too long so your child won't get restless in the middle of it.
  • Perform some relaxing activities with your child before bedtime. You can read a book, play some soft music or even give your child a gentle massage.
  • Turn off all gadgets, devices, and any other kinds of activities which may stimulate your child. Do this an hour or so before bedtime for the best effect.
  • To minimize any distractions to your child's senses, set-up your child's bedroom well. You can place heavy curtains or thick carpets. Also, ensure that the bedroom door doesn't make any unnecessary sounds.
  • Ask a sleep psychologist or your child's pediatrician about bright-light therapy. With this kind of therapy, you expose your child to bright light for periods of time during the day. This process may help control the release of melatonin in your child's body. This would then help your child feel more awake and alert during the day time.
  • Allow your child to sleep by himself/herself. When you're done with the bedtime routine, say goodnight to your child and allow him/her to fall asleep alone. When your child learns how to fall asleep alone, he/she will also learn how to fall asleep even during middle-of-the-night awakenings.
  • Exercise with your child during the day. It will help him/her fall asleep easier and more deeply. Don't do this right before bedtime though, as it might make the process of falling asleep more difficult.
  • Also, encourage your child to take short naps once or twice during the day. This is beneficial, especially for preschool kids. But don't let your child nap during the late afternoon as this might disrupt his/her bedtime.

As you can see, there are many different steps you can take to help your child fall asleep. Even children with autism will benefit greatly from a good night's sleep. These tips are all easy to do. Some tips may work for your child while some might not. Whatever the case, helping your child sleep through the night is the goal and now, you have some tips to guide you!