Sleep disorders can appear in every human being at any age. There is a relatively solid number of reasons why irregularity of sleep pattern occurs in individuals with normal cognitive capability. Both geneticists and physicists worldwide agree on this list of reasons, most of which are identical in cases of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. For those children, it’s even more difficult to enter the REM phase, but still, there are things parents can do to increase the quality of their sleep.
How sleep disorder impacts mental and physical performance?
It’s important to get a good night sleep, especially for babies and infants. As the baby grows it requires less and less sleep and establishes a regular sleep pattern eventually. Infants from 1-3 years old need 12-14 hours of sleep on a daily basis to be able to develop normal cognitive function. So including the napping hours and actual sleep, at this age, they need half a day of sleep in order to function normally and develop naturally. In most cases, this isn’t a problem, but if the infant or a baby is having extremely irregular sleep pattern, wakes up during the night, and has difficulties going to sleep, the effects can be alarming.
Sleep irregularity can cause:
- Increased aggression
- Tendency to develop Bruxism
- Increased hyperactivity
- Low cognitive and learning capability
The list goes on as science confirms that it can also affect social life, decreasing the chances for personal and career development later through adulthood.
Possible causes for sleep disorder in those with autism
No one is sure what causes insomnia, sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders in children with ASD. Science hasn’t fully understood ASD, so they can’t pinpoint the exact problem that causes autism and sleeping disorders. However, there are a lot of speculations based on scientific facts that can help.
A lot of who we are as individuals is being attributed to our lifestyle, social cues, and norms. Researchers claim that the inability to communicate properly and recognize social cues might cause sleep disorder in children with autism. Because they are unable to notice these cues, that suggest when to sleep in particular, they can’t develop a normal sleeping routine. Next to that their body isn’t attuned with the day and night cycles, therefore has additional difficulties understanding that daytime is playtime and night is for sleeping.
Science relates another reason for sleep deprivation in those with ASD. When the body experiences a disbalance of hormone levels, it affects everything including sleeping routine. This is mostly due to a hormone called melatonin that regulates our sleep pattern among other things. Individuals with low levels of this hormone usually have problems going to sleep. And people with autism usually lack large quantities of melatonin in their hormone levels.
How to help and get an autistic child to sleep?
While many are wondering how to put an autistic child to sleep, the solution might be in front of their eyes. As every human being, people with autism are also sensitive to the outside stimuli only to a much greater extent. They get irritated more easily, feel agitated by many things and uncomfortable if everything isn’t according to their “standard”. So autism and sleeping don’t go that well together. If you have an autistic child you know how intense things can get, and how a little detail might ruin their mood. You as a parent can use this awareness and observe them more closely to figure out which of the things impacts their sleep quality the most.
1. Keep notes of your child’s daily behavior
Listen to their needs and monitor their daily routine, notice the little things that make them feel this way and write them down in a diary. This will help tremendously if you choose to take your youngling to a pediatrician due to sleep irregularity problems. You contribute with your notes, and luckily with the help of your preferred pediatrician, you can fix the problem.
2. Make sure they are active
Another possible solution is to make sure that have a quality afternoon and spend their energy throughout the day. This way they’ll improve quality and eventually develop a normal sleeping routine. You’ll need to entertain them and help them establish a healthy sleep/wake cycle. Do that with special toys for kids with autism or spend some quality time outside in the nature. By doing this it’s possible to push the body in the right direction so that it increases the levels of melatonin and improves sleep.
3. Medication with nutrition
Medication can also help, but only with proper application and monitoring. There isn’t a cure for insomnia, but using medication along with certain techniques and a proper diet definitely, help to solve the problem at hand. It’s important to avoid relying on medication alone, as they only act as an additional mean for approaching and correcting the problem.
4. Muscle relaxation before bed
You can try with massage as well, as the body needs to be relaxed to enter the REM phase and get a good night sleep. If the body is tense, it’s suggested that there is danger around as therefore can’t relax. This is due to our evolution and genes. They determine in a way how we behave and how to act in certain situations. Trying to soothe stressed nerves and muscles will prepare your baby for a good night sleep and help the overall quality of sleep.
One more thing you can do is consult with your pediatrician and preferred nutritionist to add melatonin in a form of a supplement to your child’s diet. Many will agree that giving melatonin to your child just before bedtime decreases the risk of waking up during the night or developing insomnia in general.
Although there are many methods for helping those with autism spectrum disorder at least to some extent, only a few techniques are labeled as proficient. Scientists have figured only 25% how ASD functions and what causes it.
Therefore not all is lost, and as medicine and science progresses we safely say that there will be a time when autism spectrum disorder can be cured. With current understanding of this mental disorder and hormone imbalance, we can apply a number of solutions some of which may help more than others in improving the quality of life.