Nearly 70 percent of Aspergers (high functioning autism) children under age 10 experience some type of sleep problem. And although “sleep needs” naturally decrease by about 15 minutes on average every year (1-year-olds require almost 14 hours daily, while a 17-year-old needs at least 8.25 hours), a startling 80 percent of Aspergers children ages 11 to 17 get less than the recommended amount. Some Aspergers kids may have chronic sleep difficulties, and many are actually going through their days sleep-deprived.
Does your child:
- get out of bed over and over until you are both exhausted and your child is crying
- demand that you lie down with her and stay there until she falls asleep
- call to you after you have already read 3 stories, checked for monsters, lined up the stuffed animals, and made sure that the door was ajar in exactly the correct position to your child’s specifications
- wake up in your own bed and notice the extra body sleeping peaceful beside you
- try to sneak out of your child’s bedroom, but he wakes up and demands that you return
- find yourself drifting off and waking up two hours later in your child’s bed
If any of this sounds familiar, then you are probably waking up exhausted in the morning, dragging yourself through your day, and dreading this evening when it all starts again.
Help your Aspergers youngster get better rest by trying out one or more of the following strategies:
1. About fifteen minutes before bedtime, and again five minutes before, remind your youngster that bedtime is coming soon. It's hard for kids to stop doing something they enjoy, and a reminder gives them time to finish what they're doing and to get ready to "switch gears" for actual bedtime routines. Some people find it helpful to use neutral timekeepers like clocks or a timer to help kids see when it’s time for bed.
2. Bathe your Aspergers child. The key to getting a youngster to bed easily is helping them to relax before bed time arrives. Not only is bath time necessary to prepare your youngster for the next day, it also helps by slowing them down into the right frame of mind needed to fall asleep. A warm bath or shower is very comforting and also helps to relax the body, making focusing the youngster on calming down before bed much easier.
3. Bedtime starts long before kids are in bed. In fact, kids are far more ready for bedtime if they have "winding down" time with some calm, relaxing activities. It's wise to avoid television programs that might make your kids excited or feel they need rough and tumble play. If you offer an evening snack, keep away from foods with caffeine, like colas and chocolate which are stimulants and could keep your youngster awake. Better to give fruit, pretzels, or cookies and a little milk.
4. Clean up before bed. Kids often make random messes during their playtime and it is very helpful to the parents to have them put their things away before bed. Children picking up their own things give the parents the ability to spend more time focused on their kids. You are also reinforcing a great habit while your kids are young. The less a parent or caregiver has to be responsible for, the less stress they will have.
5. Consider using the supplement Melatonin. More than two dozen studies have shown that melatonin helps children who have insomnia, and it has few or no side effects. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2005 concluded that melatonin supplements are safe. Children with Aspergers and Autism are often given this supplement because their bodies either don't produce melatonin – or do so only erratically. This is not a treatment for the healthy child who just doesn't want to go to bed or the child with occasional trouble falling asleep. Melatonin is most beneficial for children who suffer brain injuries in which the brain no longer produces enough melatonin. About 15% of pediatricians recommend melatonin to help kids who have insomnia.
6. Create a buffer time to lower down the activity level for an hour or so before bedtime. Find quieter activities such as coloring, reading or playing quietly.
7. Decrease television time and increase your youngster's activities and exercise levels during the day.
8. Eliminate caffeine from your youngster’s diet. Cola drinks and chocolate have significant caffeine.
9. Encourage your kids to find ways to comfort themselves-- maybe holding a stuffed animal, making up a story or imagining a pleasant "dream."
10. Find a balance between being comforting and being firm about the rules. If you've set a rule of "one small drink of water" or "two books," kindly remind your youngster of the rule and then stick to it.
11. Have a bedtime snack. This does not need to be a big deal. It is just a little food to help them tide themselves over to morning and breakfast, which is a long time away. A cheese stick or a small glass of milk and a slice of bread or a handful of crackers is all it takes. Cooking is not required. Sweets are probably not a good idea for many reasons. Having a little something in their stomach before bedtime makes them more comfortable and less likely to sleep lightly or have trouble getting to sleep in the first place.
12. If you feel comfortable about it, you may want to leave on a night light or decorate your youngster's bedroom walls or ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Having a bit of light reminds kids that there is still light somewhere and that before long, the daylight will come again.
13. If your youngster has had a nightmare, you can assure your youngster that a dream is only a dream, and a dream can’t hurt anybody.
14. Let your youngster know that it's okay if he or she doesn't fall asleep right away, but that it's important to stay in bed.
15. Let your kids know that you understand how disappointed they can get when they have to stop playing and get ready for bed. Just knowing that parents care about their feelings can help kids manage better.
16. Set a bed time. Being consistent is the most important rule with kids. You will find that deciding on a specific bed time and sticking to it will greatly reduce the struggle to get children to bed. When deciding on the time, make sure to consider the different aspects of the youngster’s needs. A youngster needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep to function well during the day. Most kids do not fall asleep right away, so make sure to account for that factor in determining the bed time.
17. Some families find it helpful to leave the bedroom door open a bit, so kids can hear some familiar sounds of the household as they try to fall asleep. If kids do get out of bed, it's best to walk them back to their rooms. Kids need to know their own beds and bedrooms are safe places.
18. Some families put a sticker on a calendar each morning after their youngster was able to stay in bed all night. There may not be many stickers to begin with, but seeing them increase over time can let kids realize that they've been able to manage something that once had been hard for them.
19. Spend ten minutes cuddling with your youngster. This will build a sense of love and security as well as provide a time to calm down.
20. Try to make bedtime the same time each night. Kids understand what's expected of them when they have a routine that's predictable.
21. Tuck them into bed. One method for settling a youngster into bed is the bedtime story. After the children are in their pajamas, tuck them comfortably into their blankets. You can either read to them or tell them a story, making it up as you go. Listening to your voice will help the youngster relax and get comfortable. There are also other options including bed time songs, rhymes and prayers that will help the youngster feel safe and at rest as they get settled down for the night.
22. Use lavender or other aromas in your youngster's room. The scent may help to calm your youngster.
23. Use relaxation tapes as background noise for your youngster when falling asleep. There are many varieties available including nature sounds and calming music. Kids with ADHD often find "white noise" to be calming. You can create white noise by putting a radio on static or running an electric fan.
24. Your youngster might find it comforting to have something of yours to keep through the night, like a glove or a small scarf. Those personal things can help your youngster feel connected with you, even though you're not right there.
25. Give your youngster choices. Some families find their kids are more willing to go through a bedtime routine if they have some control over what particular things they do. Of course there are some things, like bathing and teeth brushing, that need to be part of every healthy family’s “routine.” Below is a list of some other rituals you may want to consider:
- give hugs
- listen to quiet music
- read books or tell stories
- say goodnight to things in the room
- say prayers
- sing quiet songs
- spend time cuddling
- talk about what happened today
- talk about what's ahead for tomorrow
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook