HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Insomnia in Children with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism

“What do you suggest for my 4-year-old Aspie boy who has a hard time getting to sleep at bedtime, but can’t take melatonin? He has an allergic reaction to that supplement (gives him headaches). And why does it seem that so many Asperger’s children have trouble going to sleep – even when they are exhausted?”

Researchers don't know for sure why Aspergers kids have problems with sleep, but they have several theories. Here are the main ones:
  1. Anxiety: Stress or anxiety is a possible condition that could adversely affect sleep. Aspergers kids tend to test higher than other kids for anxiety.
  2. Low levels of nighttime melatonin: Melatonin normally helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. To make melatonin, the body needs an amino acid called tryptophan, which research has found to be either higher or lower than normal in kids on the spectrum. Typically, melatonin levels rise in response to darkness and dip during the daylight hours. Studies have shown that some kids with Aspergers don't release melatonin at the correct times of day. Instead, they have high levels of melatonin during the daytime and lower levels at night.
  3. Sensory sensitivities: Aspergers kids may have trouble falling asleep or awaken in the middle of the night due to an increased sensitivity to outside stimuli (e.g., touch or sound). While most kids continue to sleep soundly while their mother opens the bedroom door or tucks in the covers, a Aspergers youngster might wake up abruptly.
  4. Ignoring social cues: Most “typical” kids know when it's time to go to sleep at night thanks to the normal cycles of light and dark and their body's circadian rhythms. But they also use social cues (e.g., kids may see their siblings getting ready for bed). Aspergers kids may misinterpret or fail to understand these cues.

Sleep problems are some of the most common problems moms and dads face with their Aspergers children. Most Aspies have sleep difficulties, and many are actually going through their days sleep-deprived.

Here’s how you can help your child with Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) get to sleep in a reasonable amount of time – even if he can’t take melatonin:

1. An hour before bedtime, avoid all physically stimulating activities (e.g., running, jumping, climbing, etc.).

2. An overnight sleep study may be recommended for your son, especially if he has excessive daytime sleepiness or problems staying asleep. The sleep study will help determine if he has a diagnosable problem (e.g., pure snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, etc.). These disorders may require specific therapy that your son’s doctor will prescribe.

3. Avoid feeding your son big meals close to bedtime, and don't give him anything containing caffeine less than six hours before bedtime.

4. Avoid scary stories or TV shows prior to bedtime.

5. Establish a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and ends in your son's bedroom. Maintaining a predictable and soothing bedtime routine is critical with Aspergers children. Bathing, brushing teeth, singing lullabies, and reading books are some suggestions for a nightly routine.

6. Feed your son bedtime snacks that contain the amino acid “tryptophan.” Tryptophan helps the body to produce the sleep-inducing chemical serotonin. Tryptophan-containing foods include dairy products, whole grains, poultry, rice, eggs and sunflower seeds.

7. Give your son tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight, a spray bottle filled with "monster spray," or a large stuffed animal to "protect" him.

8. Have him get used to falling asleep with a transitional object (e.g., a favorite blanket or stuffed animal).

9. If your son calls for you after you've left his room, wait a few moments before responding. This will remind him that he should be asleep, and it'll give him the chance to soothe himself and even fall back asleep while he is waiting for you.

10. If your son comes out of his room after you've put him to bed, walk him back and gently - but firmly - remind him that it's bedtime.

11. It's better to read a favorite book every night than a new one because it's familiar.

12. Keep the bedroom as quiet as possible for your son. If outside noise is unavoidable, use a sound machine or stereo to block noise.

13. Make sure your son has interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air.

14. Make sure your son is comfortable. Clothes and blankets should not restrict movement or be too itchy, and the bedroom temperature shouldn't be too warm or too cold.

15. Put some thought into finding your son’s ideal bedtime.  In the evening, look for the time when he really is starting to slow down and getting physically tired. That's the time that he should be going to sleep, so get his bedtime routine done and get him into bed before that time. If you wait beyond that time, then your son may get a second wind.  At that point, he will become more difficult to handle and will have a harder time falling asleep.

16. Remove the television from your son's bedroom. Television stimulates the brain, making sleep difficult to achieve.

17. Set up a reward system. Each night your son goes to bed on time and stays there all night, he gets a star. After three stars, give him a prize.

18. Talk to a sleep psychologist about bright-light therapy. Exposing your son to periods of bright light in the morning may help regulate the body's release of melatonin.

19. To prevent sensory distractions during the night, put heavy curtains on your son’s windows to block out the light, install thick carpeting, and make sure the door doesn't creak.

20. Warn your son that bedtime is in five minutes or give him a choice, for example, "Do you want to go to bed now or in five minutes?" …but do this only once.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

do u find that your son will talk in his sleep and not sleep soundly when he is asleep ? it doesnt matter how many activities you can do during the day i have still found that my son has trouble too so this is a really gooxxxd post

Anonymous said...

as your pediatrician if there are any other over the counter options. i can't take melatonin either but for my son it is MAGIC!!!! and since we started it routinely, he has slept for the first time EVERY NIGHT and it has made such a huge difference in his behavior--- getting plenty of sleep!!!!!hope your doctor finds an option for oyu.

Anonymous said...

My son's psychiatrist said that children with aspergers lack it and it causes them to have the inability to sleep. Melatonin does not work with my son, so he takes Trazadone. My son is 16 years old, so your son may be too young for something like that.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of suggestions...let him sleep with the tv on, maybe warm milk, if all else fails-take him for a ride in the car, turn up the heat and before ya know it, he'll pass out from exhaustion!

Anonymous said...

My son used to have a CD player handy with story cds and a low volume, when he woke, he used to press play and it used to soothe him to sleep, he used to have one particular blue bear he would only go to sleep with as well and sleep with the light on and only go to sleep if someone was in his room with him. He now will only sleep with the light on and won't go to sleep unless someone is upstairs with him, not necessarilly in the same room (he is nearly 10). He still wakes at the slightest sound/sense of movement We have made progress, but have learnt to not fight against him at bedtime. It takes him 20 mins to fall asleep now instead of an hour or more of screaming.

Anonymous said...

The dr put our aspie on Clonidine when she was 4. It is amazing. It helped her get to sleep and stay asleep. She can't take melatonin, because it causes horrible nightmares.

Anonymous said...

For my son I make his room super dark, play soft music and read to him until he falls asleep. No picture book, he's in his bed, I'm in a chair reading with a booklight. We've read Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Moby Dick, lots of Dickens, right now we're reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
My boy is also very tactile, he has one of those giant bears from Costco that lays on top of him, over his blanket.

Anonymous said...

My son sleeps with a weighted blanket and takes melatonin, you could give the blanket a try ;)

Jane Robson said...

My son always has to have a light on so I changed the bulb for a low energy and low wattage one so it's a soft light. The other thing is a CD player with audio books. At 4 it was always Paddington Bear and Winnie the Pooh stories - read by Stephen Fry whose voice seems to be one of those things that really sooths him. At 13 he now listens to Harry Potter - read by Stephen Fry! His voice still does it everytime.

Nonie said...

Hi,
My son had this problem - excess adrenaline can impede melatonin production so I used supplemental melatonin 3mg 1 hr before bed. Very safe and effective. I also use adaptogens for adrenals and have a strict bed time routine with a relaxing bath and snack. No cocoa or caffeine foods, no sugar, and no electronics for 1 hr before bed, with lights dim (bright light shuts off melatonin in the brain).
This works for my son and there are studies now being done here in Ontario on melatonin supplements for Aspie kids.
Namaste!

Anonymous said...

My son locks himself in the bathroom at bedtime. Then as we continuously tell him it's time to go to bed, he screams at us. I don't know what will work with him.

Anonymous said...

My daughter also sleeps with a weighted blanket and it has done the trick. She has issues sleeping once or twice a month now.

Anonymous said...

My daughter also sleeps with a weighted blanket and it has done the trick. She has issues sleeping once or twice a month now.

Anonymous said...

my son needs 2 fans, very dark, tv on sometimes and forehead rubs. i did that when he was a baby. heavy blanket once it cools off really helps

Anonymous said...

My son will never sleep until it is pitch dark and works to his own body clock.Doesn't matter what we have done he will not rest until his body tells him to. I have tried nice smelling baths but he has a bath phobia, bedtime reading, hardcore exercise works best but nothing helps with the lack of melatonin, it is just part of it. My son only ever gets tired when he is in a car on a long journey and I don't drive. Good luck.xx
about an hour ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Our daughter also uses a weighted blanket.

Anonymous said...

We a heavy blanket, dark room and he listens to books on tape on low. A deeper voiced reader is usually more soothing to him. I also have him drink sleepy time tea about an hour before bed
about an hour ago via mobile · Like

Anonymous said...

My son is on clonidine and it works wonderfully!!

Anonymous said...

Anxiety, their bodies are always in high gear, or at least for my son. We see a naturopath and she has him on Kavinace which reduces anxiousness and promotes sleep by supporting GABA, and Calm-PRT whhich decreases stress by elevated cortisol, norepineohrine and epinephrine. It has helped our son get a better nights sleep. You should have him tested to see what his levels are and that will give you a glimse into what is going on with him regarding that type of stuff. We were giving him melatonin as well, and it wasn't really helping and his tests came back that told us he was not deficient in that so it would not help.... good luck, I understand your struggles.

Anonymous said...

This has recently been a problem, now that he is back to school. I tried getting to bed at earlier times as the school year got closer but he just resisted. HE is so tired by the afternoon in the school day that he can't do his work. He loves having the dog lay on him and most nights that works out for him. He is almost impossible to wake up in the morning and once asleep he stays asleep, but falling asleep is the big problem. What is the dosage of melatonin for kids?

Anonymous said...

I heard of someone in England using a vibrating pillow. They only got it recently and it seems to be working so far! Their child is 23!

Anonymous said...

For my daughter who is 6 with Aspergers, Benadryl. Sound machine. Lots of stuffed animals so she can cocoon herself in the bed. One night light and one aquarium light. Soft bedding.Heavy blanket, although not weighted ( I would love to get her one). TV on when she goes to sleep, but sound turned down very low. Calm and peaceful and consistent bedtime routine.

Anonymous said...

Try weighted blanket!

Anonymous said...

Valarien Root tea or tincture. Totally works and is natural.

Anonymous said...

My son's doctor put him on Rysperdal. Not only does it put him to sleep, but he wakes up in a good mood.

Anonymous said...

I learned that 80% of seratonin is produced in the stomach. Seratonin is needed to balance anxieties etc. My son takes a 5htp vitamin to help his body produce the seratonin in his stomach rather than a script that alters the chemical in his brain.

Kate Green said...

My son showed enormous improvement after just a few weeks using New Era Tissue salts - Kaliphos. That was when he was younger though. He's 17 now and stays up half the night. I'm assuming this is a teenager thing and not an Aspie trait. I hope it's not anyway.

Jayne said...

Our son is going through the assessment stages at the moment but i wanted to ask you all - he is 11yrs old and every single night he talks in his sleep, on the odd occasion he sleep walks so i don't feel he has a good peaceful sleep atall. Do you think this is a sign of aspergus?

Anonymous said...

I would say he also has ADHD. My daughter had problems with that too. We had put her on 5HTTP, but check with your doctor on that. There may even be certain he could eat at dinner, something with Tryptophan in it, like turkey.

Anonymous said...

We use aromatherapy with our Aspie. Took him to the Body Shop and let him pick out the scents he likes.

Anonymous said...

What worked for my son was a set schedule that was followed to the T. Bath, teeth brushing, books, sleep. They have so much energy that they need something to calm the mind. Even allowing him to have quiet time in his bed reading books alone helps.

Anonymous said...

I recommend a fish oil supplement, if taken 2-3 hours before bed it can have a mild sedative effect. It's worked great for us.

Anonymous said...

Our 4 year old son takes a homeopathic remedy called Nelson's Noctura which helps keep him asleep later than his usual 5am start. We have also started fish oils which have helped in many many ways. We use Nature's Aid Omega 3 Fish Oil which tastes like lemon and easy to disguise in yoghurt. My other big recommendation is Epsom Salt baths!! They really work!

Anonymous said...

Try apple and chunky peanut butter before bed, its meant to be like having a really heavy meal and so helps sleep!

Anonymous said...

I put on lullaby or relaxation music. It seems to help.

Anonymous said...

I give mine Incremin. It's a vitamin/iron liquid supplement. Works for a few kids I know of. Worth a try.

Anonymous said...

Classical music & valerian & hops vitamin for kids

Anonymous said...

Some great suggestions here & it's interesting to read how others combat the same issues. Another alternative medication is Catapres. Our paediatrician prescribes it for our 7yo aspie son who has sleep problems. It works by lowering the
body's blood pressure with desired side affect of sleepiness. Non-residual medication (not dopey next morning). We explored the 'natural therapies' route first, unfortunately nothing achieved the desired effect.

Anonymous said...

Where do you buy a weighted blanket from? I live in Toronto. If you give your child Melatonin, how much do you give them?

Anonymous said...

Melatonin works for my daughter now but when she was too young to take it a BED TENT worked perfectly for her. She also wears a soft sleep mask and still listens to her Baby Motzart CD every night.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned using Benadryl. When I tried that with my daughter she would go to sleep easily but she would wake up very irritable every morning causing her to snap at everyone and act out or go into meltdowns more easily than usual. I proved the connection when I stopped giving it to her and the morning nightmare stopped. Even with little sleep.

Anonymous said...

Lots of comments already, but yes melatonin is magic. Walgreens sells flavored tablets that dissolve in the mouth. We do vitamin/fiber supplement at bed time so we just say its another vitamin. Our son starts yawning about 10 minutes later (during books).

Anonymous said...

Seems my son doesn't need as much sleep as other children. His betime has been 10:30+/- since he was tiny and he never runs low on energy. Try lavender under his pillow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. It's a struggle for my 16 years old also.

Anonymous said...

My 7 year old Aspie needs a "cozy place" to sleep. He basically builds a nest in his bed with all his blankets and stuffed animals completely surrounding him. I give him "milk for his bones" so he can grow big and strong (spiked with melatonin) and he can pick one thing to read before bed. This works quite well, but he still talks in his sleep and is restless. He has a very hard time dealing with dreams. To him all dreams are scary as they are not real and can't be taken literally. Waking during a dream is the worst. He cannot go back to sleep and cannot overcome the initial disorientation and confusion. Do all Aspies have trouble with understanding dreams? He has always struggled with this and that's why the melatonin he would be so freaked out about the possibility of dreaming that he would not allow himself to sleep. He says his brain is playing tricks on him.

Anonymous said...

My 9-yr-old has always had extreme diff sleeping, but thankfully this has improved with age. Melatonin works for him. I give it to him occasionally. Must give it to him when he's been in bed already for a while. If I give to him too early (before bed) he gets weepy, upset, may get headache. If given at right time, seems to 'still' his body. part dose, since regular dose makes him weepy, distraught next day.

Likes audiobooks, but would never fall asleep with one on, but reduces his anxiety about not being able to sleep. oh, stephen fry, that's who that guy is! Also likes 'old mother west wind' - very gentle.

He also has a flip key-ring of pictures of things to do to help with sleep, e.g., deep breaths, play a movie in his head, imagine a story in head, count by 8s, 9s, etc.

Has ongoing 'night terrors'; will run thru house in sleep, run into walls, very agitated.

Anonymous said...

Sleep has always been a problem for my Aspie son (9 yo diagnosed at 4 so we've been at this a while). Melatonin, radio, bathroom light on, a heavy fuzzy blanket, lots of pillows, twin size bed enclosed with curtains and routines help him fall asleep but he still wakes often. I accredit the "Delilah" radio show for helping learn to go back to sleep alone. His anxiety is soothed by the familiar voice while learning empathy listening to the touching stories about love and life.

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