Sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, restlessness or early morning waking, are common in all children; however, they may be even more common in children with autism. It has been estimated that between 40% and 80% of children with autism have difficulty sleeping. Sleep is a critical component for productivity and health. When sleep deprived, it is difficult to function! When a child gets an inadequate amount of sleep, it can impact their daytime behavior and add stress to the whole family. Below are some tips for improving your child’s sleep habits.
Establish a Nighttime Routine
A nighttime routine can help your child wind down from an active day and relax before bedtime. The routine should be 30 to 60 minutes and include calming activities such as taking a bath/shower, reading a book, and listening to relaxing music. In addition, create a visual schedule with each activity. It will help your child anticipate what is next and eliminate any unwanted anxiety before bed.
Avoid Stimulants Before Bed
Stimulants, like caffeine and sugar, can energize your child and make it hard for them to fall asleep. Your child is most likely not drinking coffee before bed; however, chocolate, soda and tea contain caffeine. Avoid giving your child items that contain caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. In addition, avoid activities like running, jumping or rough housing. Screen-time, whether it involves a tablet/computer/television, can also be over-stimulating and should be avoided for at least an hour before bedtime.
Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
A bedroom should be quiet, comfortable and dark. To prevent sensory distractions during the night, put heavy curtains on your child’s windows to control the amount of light that enters the room, install carpeting to help absorb sound, and make sure you can open and close the door without it creaking. Furthermore, consider tactile sensitivities that may affect your child’s ability to sleep. Examine the texture of your child’s pajamas and bedding. Different textures can relax or arouse your child. Consider using flannel sheets during the winter to provide more warmth than regular linens. Many children benefit from sleeping with a body pillow, or surround themselves with plush/stuffed animals to give their bodies a sense of space.
Keep a Sleep Diary
It is important to get objective data on sleep for each child, as sometimes your recollections of events, especially when fatigued, may not be entirely accurate. Use a notebook or start a digital file on your phone or tablet to keep track of when your child goes to sleep, the amount of time they sleep and the number of times they wake up during the night. A sleep diary will help you become aware of patterns and environmental situations that may be inadvertently contributing to your child’s sleep difficulties. Additionally, it is invaluable when updating your doctor and while working with other specialists.
Consistency is Key
Put your child to bed at the same time each night, even on the weekends. Each day brings a new challenge and if you can master your child’s nighttime routine and improve their sleep habits, you will add quality to your days and be better prepared to face life’s challenges.
How Can You Help Your Autism Spectrum Child Sleep Better. (2014, February 5). Retrieved November 1, 2014, from http://www.theparentszone.com/parenting-tips/autism-spectrum-child-sleep-better/