Gluten Casein And Other Reactive Foods
Gluten is found in barley, wheat, and rye casein is found in milk and some dairy products. If gluten and/or casein causes your child to experience a reaction, such as a change in behavior or digestive upset, there may be a chance that these foods are impacting your childs sleep.
A study published in BioMed Research International found that the immune systems of a subgroup of children with ASD are triggered by gluten and casein. An immune reaction will trigger the release of chemicals that both promote inflammation and disrupt sleep. This situation is not limited to just gluten and casein. Any food can trigger the immune system however, the more common culprits include soy, corn, and egg.
Are There Sleep Medications For Children
Yes, there are prescription medications. However, most parents opt for a more natural route. The drugs some parents try include epilepsy drugs, sedatives, antidepressants, and alpha agonists, which affect the adrenal glands.
We cant provide any official medical advice, and we do urge you to speak with a trusted pediatrician before placing an autistic child on medication.
Melatonin For Autism Sleep Issues
Some doctors and parents are combining behavioral approaches to sleep issues with over-the-counter melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pineal gland during the sleep cycle and it has been used as a supplement to treat sleep disturbances in kids with ADHD and autism.
A study in the 2008 Journal of Child Neurologyresearched the effects of melatonin in the treatment of insomnia in children with autism and found that 60% of parents reported improved sleep. The 2006 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reports that long-term melatonin treatment was effective overall and no safety concerns were found for continuing melatonin treatment.
As with all over-the-counter medications, you want to ensure the correct dosage for your child. Believe it or not, melatonin is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration so the dosages vary by manufacturers and medication form .
Because some children with autism are also on psychotropic medications, finding the right dose of melatonin can be a tricky task so its best to work with your pediatrician to consider all of the variables that are specific to your child.
According to Dr. Craig Canapari, director of Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, In general, I would start at a low dose and increase slowly. Recognize that melatonin, unlike other medications, is a hormone and that lower doses are sometimes more effective than higher ones, especially if the benefit of it reduces with time.
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Set Up A Bedtime Routine
A regular bedtime routine starting around the same time each night encourages good sleep patterns. A bedtime routine of bath, story and bed can help younger children feel ready for sleep. For older children, the routine might include a quiet chat with you about the day then some time alone relaxing before lights out.
Autistic children might need some extra support to get used to a bedtime routine. Here are some ideas:
- Give your child clear and consistent cues when its nearly bedtime. For example, 30 minutes before bedtime, start some quiet activities like reading or drawing in the family room. Then 15 minutes before bedtime, get your child to clean their teeth and go to the toilet.
- Use a visual support with pictures showing your childs bedtime routine, so your child understands the steps. For example, put on pyjamas, clean teeth, go to the toilet, get into bed, have a bedtime story, turn out light.
- Put stickers on the visual support to show when your child completes a step correctly.
- Praise your child for successfully completing steps in the routine. For younger children, you could use a reward chart.
- If your child gets upset or wakes during the night, quietly and calmly put your child back to bed. Settle them and remind them of the sleep routine using words or pictures. You might need to do this many times.
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.
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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.
Less Time Spent Sleeping
In a study published in the Archives of Disease Control, it was reported that children with autism, aged 30 months to 11 years old, slept for 17-43 minutes less per day than their peers. The shortened sleep times were attributed to later bedtimes, earlier wake times, and night awakening .
As the age of the research participants increased, the problems with night awakening increased as well . Sleep deprivation is thought to exacerbate some of the social, behavioral, and cognitive skill issues associated with autism.
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Are Sleep Disorders Common With Autism
It is estimated that anywhere between 50-80% of children with autism spectrum disorders have some sort of sleep difficulty. For some children, they may have been diagnosed with insomnia.
As a sleep consultant for kids with special needs, I find that many children with autism struggle to sleep well because they have not yet developed their own way to get to sleep. We all have our own way of doing this, and if your child is reliant on you in any way to fall asleep each night they will continue to look for that help each and every time they wake up.
In addition, when a child is not getting the right balance of activities during the day it will affect overall quality of sleep. The circadian rhythm will continually be interrupted either because the brain is already too tired and cannot continue a regular rhythm, or because it is seeking more stimulation. When theres the right balance of sensory activities, physical activity, therapy, etc. sleep patterns will be more regular.
Sleep problems in children are too often overlooked. When parents reach out to their doctors to help their child rest better, they often find they dont get the help they need. In my experience, in the majority of cases, parents are told to give their child melatonin and ultimately medication to help their child with falling asleep.
Creating Your Bedtime Environment
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What If Your Child Reads This
Can you imagine reading this out loud to your child?
But my child doesnt understand
They might one day, no one knows your autistic childs future.
And even if they wont, you honestly think that because they possibly dont understand what youve said that it makes it okay for you to say?
Being non-speaking or intellectually disabled doesnt negate that persons basic right to privacy, dignity, and respect.
Try Participating In An Activity The Child Is Enjoying
If you have just met a child with autism and find that he or she isnt responding to you, you can try to do what the child is doing. For instance, if the child is looking at a toy train, you might sit down and play with part of the train set.
If the child is drawing, you can get out a piece of paper and draw. This is a way to form a connection that is comfortable and could put the child at ease.
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.
Less Time In Rem Sleep Cycles
Research has also indicated that children with autism spend less time in the critically-important REM sleep cycle than other peers . Since this is the restorative phase of sleep where the days information, experiences, and memories are consolidated, researchers are examining the role this lack of REM-sleep plays in the learning difficulties associated with autism.
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Medication For Autistic Children With Sleep Problems
Before trying medication, its always best to try behaviour solutions like changing your childs bedtime routine. But medication has been found to help some autistic children.
For example, melatonin supplements might help some autistic children fall asleep faster, sleep for longer and wake up fewer times in the night.
If youre interested in melatonin for your child, youll need to get a prescription from your GP or paediatrician. These health professionals can prescribe the right dose and give you information about melatonin and any possible side effects or interactions with other medicines. Theyll also monitor your child while theyre taking the medication.
Tips For Changing Routine
Once you establish a good routine for bedtime, it seems that life will throw change at you. Family vacation, adding a new sibling, or even just moving to a new home can hurt your childs sleep routines. Change is difficult for all children, but it can derail an autistic childs routines and impact all the progress you have made for sleep. Here are some tips to help manage the changes that life inevitably brings:
Making changes to your childs sleep environment and routine can be challenging. If you are having difficulty making these changes, it might be beneficial to consult with a pediatric behavioral sleep medicine specialist. A list of certified providers can be found here, says Dr. Jessee Dietch, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University.
For more help with changes in routine and a child with autism, visit:
- Indiana University Bloomington: Change Is Good! Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum when Introducing Novelty
Get Enough Physical Activity During The Day
Its a good idea to encourage your child to be more active during the day for example, even a family walk before dinner can make a difference. And its great if your child can be active outside, because plenty of natural light during the day also helps with sleep.
Australian guidelines recommend that:
- preschoolers should be physically active for at least three hours a day, including at least an hour of energetic play, like running and jumping
- school-age children should be physically active for several hours a day, including at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
The Common Disturbances Of Sleep Deprivation With Asd Children
Everyone needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night to feel fresh and productive during the day. The majority of children with ASD have difficulty falling asleep.
Due to fatigue, ASD symptoms worsen, making it difficult to sleep the next night. The cycle goes on. As a result, many people are affected.
Since the most frequent sleep problems are connected to falling and staying asleep, a sleep issue can be classified in a variety of ways:
Insomnia: the inability to fall asleep and/or remain asleep.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Cycle Disorders
Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders: apnea, groaning, snoring
Rapid Eye movement: They spend around 15% of their sleep duration in the rapid eye movement period, critical for memory learning and retention.
Hypersomnia: an overabundance of sleepiness
Too much movement during nighttime sleep, also known as parasomnia.
Restless Sleep: Sleep is usually restless for people with ASD once they slowly fall asleep. In their sleep, they toss and turn. They are awakened by a sound in the house. They are so unpredictable that sleeping partners always choose to nap in a separate bed. They still notice the bed in a mess and the sheets spread on the floor when they wake up. They are not rejuvenated by sleep they wake up tired.
Evidently, sleep disorders are more common in children with autism, and they are exacerbated by some of the stress factors that are highly correlated with an autism spectrum disorder.
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Set Up A Safe Comfortable Sleep Environment
Some sleep environments can make it harder for children to get to sleep. Check that your childs sleep space is quiet, dimly lit, and neither too hot nor too cold.
Gradually remove objects that might stop your child from sleeping comfortably. For example, a favourite soft toy in the bed might be OK. But if your child has a whole collection of toy cars in their bed, it might make it hard for your child to get comfortable in bed. You could encourage your child to put one or two cars per night into a box next to their bed.
Rewards can help your child make this change.
Keep The Bedroom Cool
Your child may not be able to tell you if they feel too cool or too warm, but sleep experts indicate that a cool bedroom promotes sound sleep. Optimal bedroom temperatures range from 65° 67° F. If your child cannot tolerate bed clothes or covers, you will want to raise the heat a bit but no higher than around 75° F.
Night Terrors And Nightmares
Some sleep behaviour can look like a problem but is actually typical for all children. This includes:
- night terrors, which is when children suddenly get very agitated while deeply asleep these are normal in children aged 2-12 years
- nightmares, which are bad dreams that can wake children up and and make it hard for them to get back to sleep these are normal for children of all ages.
Talk to your childs GP if youre concerned or your childs behaviour seems severe.