Children can have difficulty sleeping for a variety of reasons, and difficulties appear to occur more frequently in children with Autism. There are many factors that can contribute to sleep difficulties.
Sometimes another condition or its treatment can impact on sleep including:
If these apply to your child, you should still try to follow this advice to help improve sleep patterns.
Children with autism may be more sensitive to noise or light than another child and this can sometimes be a cause of sleep issues.
If this is the case, reducing the sensory stimulation in the environment can help to improve sleep, try to:
It is very difficult to fall asleep when your mind is overstimulated. It is important for a child to have some ‘calming down’ or ‘relaxation’ time before bedtime. Activities that can over stimulate a child include:
To help your child relax before bedtime you could try:
Sometimes daytime activities can have an impact on the child’s sleep patterns. If a child does not sleep well at night and is grumpy in the day as a result, it can be tempting to allow them a short nap in the day. However, this can trigger a pattern of daytime sleeping and night waking.
Also a lack of physical exercise or activity can lead to a child not being tired at bedtimes. Consuming caffeinated or ‘energy’ drinks during the day can also have a negative impact on sleep at night.
To improve sleep patterns you could try:
Regular Sleep Routines
Establishing regular routines (which include a period of reduced stimulation before bed) is very important in establishing good sleeping patterns, and for children with autism this structure can be even more important.
Tidy toys away, switch electronic equipment off
Settling to Sleep and Night waking
Sometimes children wake frequently during the night. This is often at the ‘lighter sleep’ stage of the sleep cycle. At this stage of sleep, the child will naturally become aroused and will need to ‘settle themselves’ back to sleep. If your child is unable to ‘settle’ to sleep without the aid of a comforter (be that a blanket or parents!) when they first go to bed at night, they will be unlikely to be able to ‘resettle’ themselves during the night. It is therefore important to teach your child to ‘settle’ themselves to sleep at bedtime. If your child struggles with this, or you find yourself laying with your child to help them get off to sleep you could try:
Help and Support
Sleep difficulties can be very difficult to overcome, especially when you are tired or feeling stressed yourself. If sleep problems are causing many difficulties, seek the advice and support of a professional.
For resources and further information about autism visit www.AutismWales.org