Sleeping tips for autistic children

Being a parent of a child on the autism spectrum is tough enough and bedtime can be even more challenging than usual. It is quite common for autistic children to experience sleeping difficulties including falling and staying asleep as well as bedwetting.

It is essential for those parents to introduce sleeping routines and ensure they get the right amount of sleep so that they can do well in school and in life.

According to Action Medical Research at least one in 100 children in the UK has an autism spectrum condition (ASC). Children may have problems with communication, social interaction and flexibility of thought so to function at their best, they need an adequate bedtime.

A survey by Happy Beds and the National Autistic Society found that four in every five autistic people have trouble sleeping at night, and most are restless once they nod off.

On average, autistic people have six hours of sleep a night or less (68%), despite the majority stating their bedroom is conducive to sleep.

A further 59% said they wake during the night, and 48% reported waking too soon in the morning.

 The side effects of this disrupted sleep are tiredness during the day and mood changes, as well as wider-reaching influences on family life, school or work. 

In this blog, London Mums share their top sleeping tips aimed at children on the spectrum.

1.           Stick to a bedtime routine

I know it’s tough and often monotonous for parents to stick to a bedtime routine, but an established routine is particularly helpful for autistic children. The ritual helps signalling the body that it’s time for bed.

  1. Eliminate screen time

Screen light disrupts the production of melatonin so it is essential to eliminate the presence of iPads, smartphones and laptop from the bed area. Activities online can create a certain level of excitement and does not help the winding down process.

3.           Bath time

A bath can calm children down and can induce drowsiness.

  1. Create a relaxing environment

You can create a calm surrounding with objects your children love, like a favourite plush, a soft blanket, comfortable sleepwear and bedding / mattress, a nightlight, or a colouring book that could help fall asleep. Don’t encourage them to start exciting activities. Try soothing classical music or white noises such as relaxing ocean sounds.

The research revealed some ways that parents have felt helps with their autistic child’s sleep. These include: a dark room (59%) and blackout blinds (48%) as most effective remedies, bedding of a specific material (41%), Background music (33%), weighted blankets (24%).

 

  1. Massage

Autistic children seem to react particularly well to gentle neck massage.

6.           Bedtime Stories

Try and read a bedtime story that includes musical rhyming. Autistic children find this particularly relaxing.

Autistic or not, the coronavirus lockdown has affected us all. However, many of the study’s respondents said they are particularly struggling to get rest during this testing time.

 

One parent said her autistic son’s sleep is really suffering during lockdown:“There are lots of night terrors and sweats through the night. Our son is very worried over COVID and his brain goes into overdrive. Also, he’s not burning as much energy off as he doesn’t like to leave the house for walks as he’s scared of getting COVID.”

 

Carol Povey, Director of Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society said:

 

“Sleep is incredibly important for everyone, but for the 700,000 autistic people in the UK, getting a good night’s sleep can be particularly difficult – especially during times of uncertainty like the coronavirus outbreak.

 

“Lockdown has brought huge changes to everyday life and people’s routines. This is particularly hard for autistic children and adults who can feel anxious and overwhelmed by unexpected changes.

 

“Because of this, many autistic people may find they have difficulty settling or winding down after a stressful day, waking up repeatedly during the night or might find their increased anxiety makes it really hard to relax and fall asleep. Adjusting to this new reality has been difficult for many. 

 

“For some autistic people, they may find that their sleep in lockdown is better as they’re not experiencing as much anxiety around some things they usually find difficult, like social situations, or because they are able to spend more time doing things they enjoy.”

 

Joy Richards, Sleep Specialist at Happy Beds said: “At Happy Beds, we believe everyone needs, and deserves, a good night’s sleep. So, we teamed up with the National Autistic Society to research and understand how autistic people’s sleep is affected, as well as that of their families, and how we can help with our beds and furniture.

 

“We all suffer from sleep disturbances and trouble snoozing from time to time but want to make slumber as easy as possible for those who have regular sleep issues by offering comfortable and supportive mattresses, and strong and sturdy beds for those who are restless.”

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