Connect With Others You’re Not Alone
I felt completely helpless. I was interstate for work and Travis was at home with Patch, who had been awake for 38 hours. Travis was really struggling and posted a plea on Facebook to other mums and dads of autistic children.
“Today I want to know I’m not alone. I just need to hear your story and know that somewhere in the world someone understands what Patch and I are going through.”
The comments poured in. “After 30 years we still don’t know if he will sleep one hour or 4 or 5 â¦ please know we share your hard timesâ¦”
And this: “I’m up at 3:00am while my teen is fast asleep. Because even on nights when he sleeps well, I am up worrying about his future. Tonight feels especially bleak.”
And one from another dad: “Hey mate, I’ve also been awake since 3:00am, I know how you feel.”
My Child Wont Fall Asleep Without Me
There are two main reasons for children only sleeping with parental presence. The first is anxiety, which can be quite prominent in children with autism. Usually parents can see that the child is anxious at nighttime based on behavior. If your child is excessively anxious, please consider evaluation by your physician. For anxious children, the transition to sleeping independently should be a slow and steady one. I usually recommend placing the child in his/her room after the routine, and then actually staying in the room until the child falls asleep. Over time, parents should move further and further towards the door of the room while the child falls asleep, with the goal of both decreasing nighttime anxiety and encouraging the child to fall asleep independently.
Be Your Childs Advocate
Parents of a special needs children many times need to take on the role of not only advocate but also an educator. This dual role can be a challenge initially but will smooth your road ahead when it comes to success at daycare. Youll have to educate your childs caregivers on the best way to care for your child.
Help daycare workers to understand how to care for your child. Take time before your child starts daycare to educate the people who will work with your child even if this means asking for an in-depth meeting. Education of your childs caregivers will help make your childs day at daycare a successful one.
Introduce your child to their new caregivers early on. Establish solid communication strategies between your child and the daycare provider. If that includes outside tools such as laminated pictures for your child to use to communicate their needs or daycare workers becoming familiar with basic sign language, be sure to do an in-depth meeting.
Communication is everything! If your child does not realize that it is nap time because the daycare workers do not know how to tell her it is time to go lie down on her cot, this will immediately be a roadblock to a successful day. Additionally, having comfort items for your child to cuddle with during nap time will likely help as well. Establish the groundwork ahead of time.
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Why Is My Autistic Child Having Such A Difficult Time Sleeping
Studies have shown what we already know as parents. Autistic children have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep when compared to other peers.
There can be a number of reasons that your child doesnt sleep well and it is important to understand what might be contributing to your childs difficulties. If you have been listening to the podcast for any length of time, you know my biggest thing is to try to understand your unique child.
This is not an exhaustive list, but some food for thought to help you try to determine what you can do to support your childs sleep.
Getting Your Child To Sleep
Encouraging your child to eat foods that are rich in sleep-friendly nutrients is a great way to enhance their slumber. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent choice as they are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body to make melatonin. They are also high in magnesium, a calming nutrient with low levels being linked to anxiety and poor sleep.
Kiwi, which is very high in sleep-enhancing vitamin C, is rich in serotonin which the body converts to melatonin. Tart cherry juice is another excellent choice for promoting sleep. It actually contains melatonin and also blocks an enzyme that breaks down tryptophan.
Avoiding chemical food additives is another way to help your child sleep. Flavor enhancers that are derived from glutamate, the most popular being monosodium glutamate , are found in many processed foods and can negatively affect your childs behavior and cause restlessness. Artificial colors, found in many drinks, candy, and snack foods, can lead to hyperactivity, inattention, and poor sleep.
Taking melatonin supplements is another way to help children get the slumber they need. In fact, there is evidence suggesting that many people with ASD benefit from using melatonin. If you give your child melatonin, make sure you stick to the doctors dosage recommendations.
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But When It Doesnt Work That Way Anymore
For autistic children, however, getting an appropriate amount of sleep is not that straightforward. Sleep difficulties which can include taking longer to get to sleep, a shorter total sleep time, or lower quality of sleep occur up to twice as much in autistic children than in the typically developing population.
There are several signs to look for if youre concerned your child is lacking sleep. For example, are they groggy or falling asleep during the day or taking a long time to get going in the morning?
Routines are a common culprit with sleeping difficulties. There are three essential foundations to sleep, says Charlie. A consistent sleep schedule, a regular bedtime routine, and an appropriate bedtime.
Its worth noting that there are no set answers to those. Just like theres a wide range in how much sleep people need, an appropriate bedtime for one child might not be right for another. The key is finding what works best for your child.
We know that anxiety can also play a big part in sleeping difficulties, especially if your child is having trouble sleeping before school or other similarly stressful times. As ever, communication is key to managing anxiety.
Is Melatonin Recommended For Kids With Autism
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Many people take melatonin supplements to help improve their sleeping habits. One of the biggest challenges with melatonin is that it cycles through the body quickly, so while it may help someone fall asleep, it may not help them stay asleep.
Multiple studies have looked at the use of melatonin in kids with autism. One double-blind study involving 125 children with autism investigated the use of a slow-release formulation. The kids assigned to the melatonin supplement group slept nearly an hour longer and fell asleep 40 minutes faster than the placebo group.
If youre wondering if melatonin may be right for your child, speak to your pediatrician.
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Why Do Children With Autism Struggle With Sleep
The truth is, theres still not a lot known about the connection between autistic children and issues with sleep. The medical problems that commonly trouble people on the spectrum include: anxiety disorders, ADHD, gastrointestinal distress and seizures which need medications that can disrupt sleep.
Beyond concrete medical issues, there are other reasons that children with autism might struggle with sleep and its large in part due to the symptoms of being diagnosed on the spectrum. This includes:
Communication and difficulties with social cues:
Children with autism have a more challenging time communicating and picking up on social cues. This means that even if they see other people winding down and getting ready for bed, they may not pick up on it.
Routine and habits:
Children with autism find comfort in their routines because it helps them cope with their surroundings better. So if you break free from a regular bedtime routine or have them go to sleep in a different place, this could upset them and make them less likely to go to bed happy. They need to feel like they have some control.
Some kids on the spectrum have objects or associations that they obsess over. So if they dont have access to the object they associate with bedtime , theyll be unable to settle in effectively.
Common Sleep Issues For Autism And Adhd
Why is it so hard for our children with autism and ADHD to achieve good sleep? While experts do not know the exact causes of sleep problems in people with autism and ADHD, theyve linked it to a few reasons:
- Many autistic/ADHD children have additional health conditions such as depression, anxiety, epilepsy or gastrointestinal problems. Some of these also are known to impact sleep negatively, causing insomnia and other sleep issues.
- Some children with autism and ADHD take one or more medications. For those who take stimulants for ADHD, insomnia and disrupted sleep are among the known side effects.
- Studies show that some autistic children experience what is called inverse melatonin production. That means this hormone that helps us fall asleep at night is produced at greater quantities in the morning instead of night-time for some people with autism. This effects their sleep-wake cycle.
- Children with autism are more likely to wet their beds at night than neurotypical children. This also interferes with their sleep.
Some of the most common sleep issues associated with both autism and ADHD include:
- Delayed sleep-wake patterns
Assess Fabrics On Pajamas And Bedding
Many children with ASD find certain fabrics and clothing features to be extremely irritating. Make sure that your childs PJs and bed linens are made of fabrics that at least do not cause discomfort and at best are soothing to your child. Be aware that seams, zippers, and buttons can also be irritating. If your child is non-verbal, you may need to do some investigative research with them using trial and error.
Helping Your Child With Autism Sleep: An Overview Of Sleep Hygiene And Behavioral Strategies
Sleep problems are common amongst children. For children with autism, sleep can be even more challenging. Studies show that up to 80% of children with autism have some sort of sleep difficulties. Most often it is due to difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. The goal of this article is to review sleep hygiene and discuss behavioral approaches to help promote a better nights sleep.
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Consider These Calming Sleep Routines For Autistic Kids
- Putting your child in a heavy vest or using a heavy blanket.
- Brushing your childs skin gently with a hairbrush or backscratcher.
- Snuggly swaddling his upper body.
- Using a very silky blanket as a comforting lovey.
- Spraying a little lavender mist into the air as a signal that its time to sleep.
- Dimming or blocking all lights .
One exception: a very dim night-light may reduce your childs anxiety.
Very delayed children may require fortified cribs or alarms on the door to keep them from leaving the bedroom.
Finally, your doctor may also recommend giving a magnesium supplement or 3-10 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime perhaps even a prescription sleep medicine.
Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Connect with us at .
Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.
Child Wont Go To Or Stay Asleep
- Practice a fading parental presence. When children with autism have trouble falling and staying asleep, leaving them to cry it out is not going to work well. It is simply too much anxiety for a child with autism to handle. A better solution is to practice what is known as a fading parental presence. Place a chair next to the childs bed, and sit in it so your child can see you while falling asleep. Gradually move the chair closer to the door each night until you are no longer needed in the room.
- Avoid the temptation to rock or hold your child if he wakes. This will make it harder for your child to learn to self-soothe. You will need to attend to your child if he wakes up, but try to keep interactions minimal so your child does not rely on you to go to sleep.
- When your child wakes, go into the room and help her soothe, but do not pick her up. Patting the back or simply being in the room can sometimes be sufficient. The key is to teach the child to handle the self-soothing independently of you.
- Gradually start leaving your child with an explanation that you will return to check on him. Eventually, your child may learn to fall asleep independently of your presence.
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Take A Close Look At What Your Child Is Eating
You may be surprised at the sugar content in common kids’ snacks! As adults, were mindful of limiting sugars and caffeine as we approach bedtime, but dont forget to consider how your childs diet may be impacting their sleep readiness. Also, be mindful of the nutrients that are lacking in your childs diet. Foods that contain tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, and naturally-occurring melatonin may be helpful additions to your childs dinnertime meal!
How Do I Know Whether My Child Has A Sleep Disorder
Every child needs a slightly different amount of sleep. In general, these are the amounts of sleep children require, by age:
- Ages 1-3: 12-14 hours of sleep per day
- Ages 3-6: 10-12 hours of sleep per day
- Ages 7-12: 10-11 hours of sleep per day
If your child regularly has difficulty falling asleep or wakes up repeatedly throughout the night, it might be a sign of a sleep problem. To know for sure, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. The doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist or an ear, nose and throat doctor.
It can help to keep a sleep diary for a week to track how much and when your child is sleeping. You may include any snoring, changes in breathing patterns, unusual movements, or difficulty breathing. It may help to write down observations about your child’s behavior the following day. You can share this diary with your child’s doctor and any specialist involved in treatment.
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Articles On Autism Diet & Lifestyle
During the first few months of life, babies ease into a normal cycle of sleep and wakefulness. They gradually reduce the number of daytime naps they need and start sleeping for longer periods of time at night. But some children continue to have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night, and the problem can persist long after children start school.
Sleep disorders may be even more common in children with autism spectrum disorders. Researchers estimate that between 40% and 80% of children with ASD have difficulty sleeping. The biggest sleep problems among these children include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Restlessness or poor sleep quality
- Waking early and waking frequently
A lack of a good night’s sleep can affect not only the child but everyone in their family. If you’re bleary-eyed from night after night of waking up with your child, there are a number of lifestyle interventions and sleep aids that can help.
How To Get My Child To Sleep Alone
Teaching their children to sleep alone is one of the most daunting tasks for parents. Usually, a child won’t warm up to the idea immediately. He or she might throw a fit or have trouble sleeping.
A child with autism exhibits more attachment to his or her parents. Feelings of separation, even when brief, easily stir emotional distress. That’s why sleeping alone is a routine that’s very hard to do.
Nonetheless, it’s not impossible to teach a child under the spectrum to sleep alone, although it will take patience. Read this article that will show the most effective techniques.
Help Your Child Get More Sleep
Kids with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome often struggle to get enough sleep, and, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, kids with ADHD who get inadequate sleep experience significant deterioration in their ability to pay attention and achieve academic success. While sleep may be hard to come by for kids with neuro-developmental disorders, a recent study suggests that even moderate sleep gains can lead to improved alertness and better behavior in school-aged children. Find below eight tips to calm your child before bedtime and help him or her get more restorative sleep.
Exercise daily and avoid trigger foods. Make exercise and nutrition priorities for your family. Kids should get at least an hour of physical activity each day. While exercise will help keep kids physically fit, it will also help them sleep better at night. In addition, make healthy eating habits the norm for your family by avoiding caffeine and artificial ingredients that may promote hyperactivity. Consider nutritional testing to determine if your child has dietary or digestion issues like food sensitivities or vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies that can exacerbate anxiety and sleep problems.
Try aroma therapy. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or vanilla can be calming for many people who experience sleeplessness. Let your child choose a calming scent that appeals to him or her, and then dab a little oil on a cotton ball and place it in his or her pillowcase.