Guest blogger Sarah Cummings gives us some useful tips for helping autistic children to sleep well at night.
Getting children to sleep at night is a problem all parents face. For parents with children with autism however an already difficult task is often even more complicated.
It’s estimated that between 40-80% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) suffer from sleep related problems. These include: waking frequently, problems dropping off, restlessness and waking early.
The exact reasons for sleeping problems in children with ASD aren’t completely understood. Some studies have established that children with autism don’t release the sleep hormone melatonin as efficiently as their non-ASD contemporaries. While an increased sensitivity to stimuli such as noise. light and touch may be another contributing factor.
A lack of sleep can obviously impact a child’s day, resulting in drowsiness, learning problems and behavioral issues such as anger and hyperactivity. It’s important then to do everything in your power as parent to ensure your child sleeps well.
Below we take a look a number of helpful ways to improve the chances a child with autism gets a better night’s sleep…
1 Keep it quiet
All children can be kept awake by bumps in the night, however as autistic children often suffer from increased sensitivity to noise, these bumps can play an even greater role in broken sleep.
It’s impossible to control all the noise your little one might be exposed to at night, the traffic outside is obviously no fault of yours, but if there is something that can be done, do it.
Do a regular sound audit of your home. Doors should be kept oiled. Creaky floorboards can be replaced. Wooden floors can be covered with thick carpet. Slippers can be worn inside instead of shoes. Even things like when the water heating is scheduled to come on (rumbling pipes) can be altered to better fit in with your child’s sleeping patterns.
2 Reduce pre-bed stimulation
By now we are all aware that screens before bed can have a huge detrimental impact on sleep. But it’s a point that bears repeating. The blue light emitted by tvs, tablets and smartphones impairs the body’s melatonin production.
In addition to the impact of the light, the content consumed by little ones on screens and the interactive nature of today’s devices all lead to one thing – overstimulation. Children with autism are more susceptible than others to the dangers of overstimulation.
It’s important then to build in some wind-down time into the evening schedule of your child. This means shutting off all screens at least an hour, ideally two, before bedtime. It also means avoiding any other activity that could lead to overstimulation, replace game playing with book reading and listening to music.
3 Invest in blackout curtains
As we mentioned above, children with autism are often more sensitive to outside stimuli – this includes light. Take this into account when preparing their sleep environment. Replace ineffective curtains and blinds with blackout curtains.
Light pollution from outside plays a similar role to screens in keeping the mind overstimulated. The impact of having a completely dark room can be a very big one when it comes to sleep.
4 Minimize distractions
Ensure that all toys and distractions are out of sight, if possible. Their bedroom at bedtime should be a place of rest not play. Minimizing what is within view will minimize overstimulation.
5 Engage in some colour therapy
The decor of a child’s room, especially a child with autism, should be designed to generate calm. Bright, bold colours will lead to overstimulation, rooms should be painted in muted tones. Blues, light greens and mellow yellows are all known to promote healthy sleep.
6 Get the bed right
This may seem like an obvious one but ensuring the surface your child is sleeping on is fit for purpose plays a very important role in how well they sleep. Children with autism are often more sensitive than their contemporaries, if their bed is uncomfortable, the wrong size etc, they will likely feel it more than most.
Choosing a good bed is hard, for some help take a look at this guide if you need a little help.
7 Exercise is essential
Nothing will help a child, any child (autism or not), sleep better than going to bed properly tired. This means you have you make sure your child gets sufficient daytime exercise. Go out, run around, jump about, do whatever it takes to ensure your little one gets out of breath at least once a day. Take a look here for some autism friendly activities.
Avoid however scheduling your exercise sessions too close to bedtime, too much adrenaline too close to sleep time can have the opposite effect than intended.
Well, there you have it – 7 simple tips on how to help your autistic child get better sleep. With a better night’s rest under their belt your child will be in a better position to cope with whatever the day throws at them. And with your child sleeping better, so will you.
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