Did you know that 40 to 80% of children with the autism spectrum disorder have a difficult time getting a proper sleep?
Sleep issues and not getting an adequate amount of sleep can have negative consequences in your child’s health, including sleeping during the daytime, having behavioral problems (such as aggression, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness), and having difficulty learning.
The most recurring sleep issues among children with ASD are not being able to fall asleep and waking up frequently in the night. Some children may even have prolonged awakenings, or wake up earlier.
There are several reasons why children with autism may have poor sleep: behavioral, neurological, and medical problems.
There are some practical, simple ways to help your children with ADHD get better sleep.
But, before you (parents) do anything, first, talk to your family health care professional about your child’s sleep disorders. They can advise you how many hours of enjoyable night sleep your child needs daily.
For instance, preschool children might need 11 to 13 hours of good night sleep, school going children require 10 to 11 hours of sleep every day, and adolescents need 9 and 1/2 hour of sleep every day.
With that said, here are some practical yet simple strategies to improve sleep in children with autism:
#1: Sleep environment
Your child’s bedroom MUST be quiet, dark, and relaxed.
Since children with autism are highly sensitive to noises, their sleep environment must be acclimated to ensure your children feel as comfortable as an old shoe.
#2: Bedtime routine
Bedtime routine must be predictable, short (not more than 20 minutes), and include activities that help your child unwind and relax, such as reading books or listening to soothing music.
Computer, TV, video games, etc. MUST be avoided close to bedtime, as it can provoke your child into not falling asleep on time.
#3: Wake/sleep routine
The routine must be regular and straightforward with not much of a difference during the weekday and weekend.
#4: Let them fall asleep on their “own.
Let your child fall asleep on their own without you (parent) being present.
Most children (and adolescents) wake up for a brief time during the night. However, they are capable of quickly going back to sleep by using bedtime associations.
#5: Avoid caffeine
Caffeine, particularly close to bedtime, can be stimulating, making it difficult for your child to go back to sleep.
Remember: Besides coffee, caffeine can also be found in chocolate, tea, and sodas.
Naps at early afternoon can be helpful for pre-school children, but they must not be allowed to take one late in the afternoon as it can hinder with bedtime.
In brief, although sleep disorders are widespread in children with autism, however, there are effective, simple ways to IMPROVE their sleep.
When children get better sleep during the night, they’ll improve their daytime functioning too, which also impacts the quality of sleep the rest of the family receives.
Exercise during the day can help your child go to sleep quickly, and children who exercise regularly usually have a more profound sleep.
But, don’t let your child exercise close to bedtime as it may not help them fall asleep on-time.
#8: Weighted Blankets for Children with Autism
Weighted blankets are safe and non-threatening sleep therapy for anyone with sleeping problems.
In fact, in psychiatric health care, weighted blankets are one of the most influential tools for children with autism (upset, anxious, and losing control).
These blankets provide deep pressure touch throughout the body, helping the body become calm and relax. Just like a firm hug, a weighted blanket helps children feel safe, grounded, and secure.