- Sleep is essential for our mental health. Disturbances to our sleep can impact negatively on our health and wellbeing, as well as on our energy levels and ability to focus and go about our lives.
- We know that young people with ASD frequently report difficulty with getting to sleep, waking frequently in the night, waking too early, waking up feeling exhausted or oversleeping.
- Factors which are thought to affect sleep include physical and psychological factors. Physical factors include breathing problems, epilepsy, constipation and hyperactivity. Psychological factors include anxiety and low mood.
- Young people with ASD can experience some additional sleep problems; including sensory sensitivities (e.g., food, light, touch), difficulty understanding the purpose of sleep/giving up control, and abnormal melatonin regulation.
- Sleep problems in young people with ASD tend to impact on the whole family, and can often affect all family members’ well-being. In addition, sleep problems can have various negative effects on the young person themselves. For example, they may experience daytime sleepiness resulting in an impaired performance at school. The young person may also experience irritability, hyperactivity and behavioural problems due to sleep deprivation.
How to Help
a conductive sleep environment should be:
- A familiar, safe, calm, safe, calm setting
- Have comfortable bed and bedding (think of the material of the sheets/duvet covers)
- The correct temperature - many young people wake in the night because they are too hot or too cold.
- A darkened, quiet room (consider black out blinds, white noise machine)
- Non-stimulating (i.e., are there too many pictures on the walls, toys to play with, easy access to phone/tablet/TV?).
- No negative associations (e.g., try to avoid bedroom being used for time outs)
- Separate from play areas.
things to encourage:
- Regular daily exercise
- Bedtime routines- introduce a pleasant bedtime routine, which could include quiet activities (Lego, colouring, and reading), bath (unless too stimulating), change, drink or snack, and upstairs to bed. For younger children you can use a visual timetable to show each part of the bedtime routine; to ensure consistency, familiarity and to help their understanding. Try to stick to the same routine each night.
- Snacks to promote sleep (oatmeal, milk, peanut butter, cherries, bananas, wholemeal toast)
- Consistent bedtime and wake times – 7 days a week.
- Thinking about problems and plans before bed- for anxious children, it can be useful to talk through any concerns and plans for the next day, to help alleviate any worries.
- Falling asleep without parents.
things to avoid:
TV/screen time (this includes phones and tablets) in the hour before bed.
Daytime naps (over age of 3 years)
Over excitement near bedtime.
Late evening exercise.
Caffeine containing drinks late in the day.
Seeking Specialist Help
You could consider asking for more specialist help from your GP/Paediatrician if:
- You are unable to cope with your young person’s sleep problem.
- They are having difficulties due to their sleep problem (e.g., struggling at school)
- Their sleep problem is affecting their quality of life.
The Children’s Sleep Charity also has lots of useful information and resources.