Triveni Goswami Vernal
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
Sleep issues are fairly common in individuals with Autism. In the article, “Sleep problems in Autism, explained”, the author Hannah Furfaro, quotes a study done in 2019, that shows that besides Insomnia, some individuals with Autism also have sleep apnea (a condition where breathing stops for a bit while sleeping) and many of them don’t get enough restorative sleep. The study showed that people with Autism, “spend about 15 percent of their sleeping time in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, which is critical for learning and retaining memories. Most neurotypical people, by contrast, spend about 23 percent of their nightly rest in REM” (https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/sleep-problems-autism-explained/).
According to the article, “Sleep problems and solutions: autistic children” (https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/health-wellbeing/sleep/sleep-problems-children-with-asd), sleep problems in individuals with autism, can be because of their daytime or bedtime habits, besides issues like anxiety, bedwetting, health issues, restless sleep, social communication difficulties, snoring etc.
CREATING DAY TIME HABITS: Care must be taken to ensure that children are adequately engaged throughout the day, in some form of physical activity or the other, so that they tire themselves out and can have restful sleep. If it is felt that a nap during the day, interferes with sleep at night, then day time nap, however brief, can be avoided for the child.
CREATING A BED TIME ROUTINE: It is important to establish set routines around bed time. Depending on what the child’s daily routine is, a set structure around bed time, can be created for the child, to avoid confusion. The environment in the room can also be created in such a way, so as to ease the child to a state of calm and get him/her ready for bed. The idea is to decrease or completely do away with over stimulating visual or auditory devices. This can include but is not limited to—taking away all electronic items from the child, making a bed time ritual of reading a story with the child, playing calming music in the background, dimming the lights, making the child wear his/her night clothing, brushing teeth, drinking some water, using the toilet, washing hands/face etc.
The article “Calming Bed Time Strategies to Help Kids Sleep” (https://www.therapyatplay.com/calming-bedtime-strategies-to-help-kids-sleep/) by Courtney M, lists out a series of interesting doable strategies to create a calming environment for the child, before bed time,
“Deep Pressure- Activates the tactile and proprioceptive senses that provides calming input into the body
• Provide firm all-over pressure hugs and cuddles
• Use a heavy blanket or a weighted blanket while reading before bed
• Roll a large yoga ball or firmly press a pillow along your child’s body
• Wrap your child up tightly in a blanket while providing deep firm pressure along the body
• Tuck bed sheets tightly or place pillows around the body for extra deep pressure throughout the evening
Gentle, Rocking Movements– Provides calming vestibular input which help kids relax
• Read books in a rocking chair
• Slowly rock your child back and forth while on a yoga ball for a few minutes before bed
• Ride on a rocking horse or swing on a hammock or porch swing before bed.
Limit Visual Auditory Overstimulation- Provide soothing lights and humming sounds to help relax and fall asleep
• Eliminate screen time and devices 2 hours before bed, this will stimulate the brain and increase arousal level rather than promote relaxation
• Relax in a dim, quiet space before heading to bed or while quietly playing
• Try using a lava lamp, a night light projector, or color changing fish tank
• Use a white noise machine/app or listen to quiet music that is soothing
Quiet Play Ideas, Perfect for Getting Kids to Calm Down before Bed
• Reading books is not only great for creating a peaceful atmosphere, but it helps kids develop speech and language skills
• Blowing bubbles provides oral sensory input and provide a calming experience
• Building a pillow fort using comforters, blankets, and pillows
Scent is a Powerful Soother. Lavender, chamomile, and vanilla oil have a soothing, calming, and relaxing effect that help promote sleep
• Spray scented oil on pillows and bed sheets
• Add essential oils in the bath or a diffuser
Create a Sense of Warmth and Comfort
• Drink something warm before bed using a straw. The sucking motion from drinking through a straw provides a calming and organizing input
• Take a warm bath before bed, add soothing essential oils to the water
• Place blankets or comforters in the dryer for a few minutes before bed time
• Place a warm rice pillow in bed or try a cozy plush microwaveable stuffed animal”
Sleep related challenges may also occur due to underlying medical issues in a child. Hence it is important to rule out medical causes by consulting a doctor or a trained practitioner. As a parent or a caregiver, the key focus should be on creating the right environment for the child, so that the transition to a bed time routine, can occur, with the least amount of resistance.
RESOURCES FOR SLEEP TIME:
(Bed time routines visual for Boys)
https://content.twinkl.co.uk/resource/08/13/t-c-125-visual-timetable-getting-ready-for-bed-girl-illustrations_ver_2.pdf?__token__=exp=1690186451~acl=%2Fresource%2F08%2F13%2Ft-c-125-visual-timetable-getting-ready-for-bed-girl-illustrations_ver_2.pdf%2A~hmac=a2d9cd85bcbe24cf23cd71cdc397bbe3a85af8c86465701bb0b8f1bf34a6f408 (Bed time routine visuals for Girls)
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.