Sleep Struggles and Strategies

Sleep Struggles and Strategies

After a long day every parent wants their child to get a good night’s sleep.  When an autistic child has sleep issues, it can lead to a rise in symptoms.  These are some physician recommended options you can implement at home if your child has any kind of sleep deprivation.  I remember when a close friend of mine had a son who wasn’t sleeping well at night.  It took a long time for him to fall asleep.  After asking a few simple questions, we decided she should try to avoid running her new dishwasher when she put him to bed.  That simple change in her nightly routine allowed her son to fall asleep faster giving him a better night’s sleep.  The dishwasher was directly below his bedroom and it somehow disrupted his ability to fall asleep.  These are our recommendations that may benefit your child’s sleep patterns.

The recommended amount of sleep children need depends upon their age.  These are the general guidelines:

 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 is not getting adequate sleep, make an appointment with his or her physician so that you can make changes to help your child sleep better.  Keeping a simple sleep diary can help you troubleshoot with your doctor and any specialist involved in treatment before you take in your child.  Snoring, breathing issues and the time it takes to fall asleep and go back to sleep during sleeping hours can all be logged into your diary.

Sleep aids from natural sources without side effects are the best option before resorting to sleep medication.  Changing your sleep environment, daytime activities and food choices can all contribute to a better night’s sleep for your autistic child.

Dietary Guidelines:

Eliminate all stimulants including caffeine and sugar before bedtime.  This includes chocolate and dessert.

Sleep Environment and Routine:

  • Create a nightly routine that may include a bath, soft music, reading a book or a gentle massage.
  • Any screen time or stimulating activities have to be avoided an hour before bedtime.
  • Try to sound proof your child’s bedroom and make it as dark as possible.
  • Make sure cell phones, cordless phones and other electronic devices not turned off are at least 5 feet from your child’s bed.  Some children are affected by running appliances if they are close to the bedroom.
  • Ask your physician if melatonin is a good option for your child before bedtime.  This has been a safe and effective treatment for autistic children over the past decade.
  • Getting your child outside in the morning in bright, natural light may help regulate the body's release of melatonin.  This can be discussed with your physician or specialist.