|From Our Experts: Dealing with Challenging Sleep Issues|
Leah Siuta, Family Service Department Head
So many parents of children with autism are looking for answers as to why their child doesn’t sleep well, and what we can do to change that. Good sleep is restorative. Without it, children are more irritable, more fatigued, less likely to learn in school, and more likely to engage in problem behaviors.
Sleep problems may include difficulty complying with bed time routines, interfering behaviors, difficulty falling and staying asleep, nightmares, and poor napping patterns. Although difficult, sleep behaviors can be positively influenced in many ways.
Some tips to help may include:
1. Chart your child’s sleep behavior to gain clearer information about their sleep cycles and what behaviors are occurring that interfere with consistent sleep habits. Establish a bed time schedule that is sensitive to your child’s age and individual sleep profile.
2. Monitor your day time routines to ensure that there is a consistent wake up time, a consistent nap time (if needed), and ample time for fresh air and exercise, etc. Reduce foods and liquids that may be irritating.
3. Organize the bedroom so there is minimal stimulation or distractions for the bed time routine. Never use the bedroom as a punishment or time out space, it should be a place for relaxation, comfort, and sleep.
4. Develop a nighttime routine that helps the child calm and get ready for bed time. Consider what items or actions help support the child in relaxing such as a warm bath, stuffed animal, back rub, singing, rocking, positioning, lighting, noise level, temperature, etc. Very clear and consistent bed time rituals can offer a clear message to your child that they may require these environmental cues. Decrease physical activity at least one hour before bedtime.
5. If your child is not sleeping, consider what other behaviors they are engaging in and why might these behaviors be occurring? Develop a consistent behavioral plan on how this will be addressed. There are techniques to use such as fading the bed time schedule, determining the frequency of times the parent enters the room, fading out attention to your child’s behavior, and how to address night time awakenings. Y
Again, although difficult, sleep behaviors can be positively influenced using some of these tips.