Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whatever Happened To Sleep

Sometimes children on the autism spectrum can have difficulty sleeping.  Every child is different – some can’t get to sleep, some can’t stay asleep and others can’t sleep at the normally accepted times of day and night.

Not every child is awake and yelling the house down.  Sometimes their sleep is restless; sometimes the child will toss and turn.  Sometimes it’s just hard to tell whether the sleep issue is associated with autism or just part of the night terrors that some children experience in their early years.
The problem affects everyone in the house, doesn’t it?  You feel like a zombie on autopilot most days.  This is what some parents have told me.
My child didn’t sleep through the night for years.  I couldn’t work out what was wrong and he couldn’t tell me.  Finally I realised that his time clock was running differently to ours.  His body told him to sleep in the afternoons and stay awake until the early morning hours.  I gradually shortened his nap time which was difficult – he wasn’t always cooperative - but the payoff was that he went to sleep at a reasonable hour.  Even today he is what people would call a night owl but he has learnt to match his sleep pattern with the need to go to school and so on.  It is hard at the time but it does eventually work out.”
I remember my brother driving me crazy at night.  His room was next to mine so we shared a common wall.  Every night for years and years I would hear the bed squeaking and creaking.  When I went in to see what was happening, there he was down on all fours on his bed, rocking himself backwards and forwards.  It seemed to be something he had to do before he could relax enough to sleep.  Now my son is doing exactly the same thing.”
Recent studies have suggested that melatonin supplements can solve some of the sleep problems.  It is possible that children on the autism spectrum are not able to produce enough melatonin in their bodies.  Melatonin is the hormone which regulates our sleep patterns. 

Other things that help are sticking to a regular night routine, making sure that your child has his special sleep toy or blanket with him and having quiet time for an hour before bed.
Does your child have sleep problems?  What tips can you share with other parents struggling with this issue?

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