Sleep plays a critical role in our health. Not getting enough sleep can impair cognition and make it difficult to concentrate. Research has also shown that individuals with chronic sleep loss are at higher risk of long-term health consequences including heart disease and diabetes.
This presents numerous challenges for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Researchers estimate that sleep disorders affect between 40% to 80% of children with ASD. The most common problems are difficulty falling asleep and waking frequently. One longitudinal study has shown that sleep deprivation had a drastic impact on social functioning and behaviour.
Improving Sleep in Children Diagnosed With ASD
Children with sleeping difficulties have an effect on the quality of sleep for others including parents and siblings. Fortunately, parents can take several steps to help children with ASD get sufficient rest.
- Keeping a sleeping diary: A sleep diary will allow you to keep detailed records and identify patterns in any sleep disturbances such as oversleeping. A number of sleep tracking devices are also available that make monitoring easier. This is one of the first steps to take to address sleeping problems.
- Maintaining an adequate environment: Children may find it difficult to rest properly depending on their surroundings. The bedroom should be as comfortable as possible. This includes keeping noise to a minimum and maintaining an appropriate temperature.
- Establishing a bedtime routine: A routine is important to establish positive sleep patterns and should include relaxing activities such as light reading or listening to music. Avoid the use of electronics before bedtime to eliminate sleep disruption.
- Evaluating medications: Melatonin is a hormone that helps to control sleep and wake cycles. Supplements can be prescribed to help children diagnosed with ASD sleep better. Melatonin is a viable option but should generally be considered as a last resort after all other alternatives have been exhausted.
It is important to maintain consistency especially when keeping a sleep diary or establishing a bedtime routine. Implementing these strategies with your child can be effective to address common sleep problems from inconsistent sleep routines to waking frequently. You may want to consider consulting with a sleep specialist or healthcare provider if problems continue to persist.
Liu, X., Hubbard, J. A., Fabes, R. A., & Adam, J. B. (2006). Sleep disturbances and correlates of children with autism spectrum disorders. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 37, 179-191.
May, T., Cornish, K., Conduit, R., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., & Rinehart, N. J. (2013). Sleep in high-functioning children with Autism: Longitudinal developmental change and associations with behaviour problems. Sleep Medicine. doi: 10.1080/15402002.2013.829064