Friday, October 16, 2015

Autism Educational Series—Sleep Issues—"AspieMom: Adventures in Autismland"

Maria is currently a SAHM to two amazing autistic boys. She lives in Ontario, Canada. She's also a passionate autism advocate, and runs/admins on several autism awareness pages on FB. She also blogs in her spare time (if there is such a thing!) You can find her on facebook at AspieMom: Adventures in Autismland or her blog, Till All the Pieces are in Place.  

Why won’t they sleep?

It’s 4 am. I am just settling down to sleep, after getting my 7 year old autistic son to sleep. Sound familiar? Or, perhaps you are just getting up with yours. (My youngest has trouble falling asleep, but has no trouble sleeping in. My oldest has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and is generally an early riser.) Either way, it’s a common problem for parents of autistic children: THEY JUST WON’T SLEEP!!

Many of us have spent late nights listening to the same videos (on the DVD player or YouTube) playing over and over, or have found ourselves nodding off to Nickelodeon or whatever kid’s channel is on, while the kids are full of beans and bouncing off the furniture (or it seems like it’s literally the walls some nights). We wonder where they get their boundless energy from. How many times have you thought that you’d be a millionaire, if you could just bottle some of that to sell?
There have been countless studies done. It seems that for some reason, autistic kids just need less sleep. Or maybe it’s that they really just can’t. Circadian rhythms may be out of whack, disrupting proper sleep-wake cycles. They may be overstimulated from a day full of sensory overload or too much exposure to electronic devices. They don’t produce enough melatonin (thus the circadian rhythm/sleep-wake cycle issues). They may have sleep apnea. There are anxiety issues, and nightmares (or worse, night terrors). Whatever the cause, it is exhausting and frustrating for those whose children (or themselves) are affected.

Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, poor performance in school (or work for mom and dad), poor concentration, and memory and cognitive impairment. It can put stress or relationships. It can cause depression, obesity, ADD, stunt growth, and more. It reduces quality of life for all affected.
So what can be done to help? Going to the doctor’s to discuss possible causes is a good option, especially if there is a possibility of sleep apnea. Melatonin supplements are considered a Godsend to many parents of autistic children. Some may need additional medication to aid in sleep as well. Don’t let anyone judge you if you and your doctor decide that sleep aids are necessary for your child. The risks from long term sleep deprivation far outweigh the risks of the medication in most cases. The same goes with melatonin. The studies released warning about the dangers of giving your children melatonin are not generally based on autistic children, (who have been shown to have melatonin deficiencies). Both of my boys use melatonin, and my youngest also takes clonidine, which has helped him a lot. It still takes him a while to fall asleep, but usually it’s between 11-1, which is much better than the 4-5 am a couple of years ago, so I’ll take what I can get!

Other ideas that some have suggested are good old fresh air after school when possible, exercise, and restricting electronic devices (including iPads, video games, tv and phones) after dinner. It’s been shown that the glow from these devices disrupts melatonin production (or hinders the effectiveness of supplements). I know, easier said than done. An example for younger children could be: bath, story time, quiet time in bed (since most of our children rarely fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow), soothing music and essential oils like lavender on the pillow, as well as administering any supplements or medications that you and your doctor have agreed upon can all help to establish a successful (or at least a bit earlier) bedtime routine.

Even with all of these things, bedtime (or staying asleep) may always be a struggle (especially once they become teens, but that is another story/blog entirely). I’m sorry that there is no magical solution that I can offer you. If there was, I’d share it, believe me. However, don’t give up hope. With trial and error, hopefully you will be able to find a solution that works for you. Just know that you are not alone. We’re all in this together, and someone always has a pot of coffee on. ;)

Love and blessings,


No comments:

Post a Comment