Insomnia in Teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

"Any advice on what to do for a teenager with ASD who has severe insomnia?"

According to the research, insomnia is a significant problem for ASD (high functioning autistic) teens compared to "typical" teens. Whether it is due to anxiety, noise, caffeine, or physical discomfort, these tips may help your teenager get a good night’s sleep:

1. Avoid caffeine, especially after 12:00 PM. Some ASD teens are sensitive to caffeine. It's highly unlikely for these young people to have a caffeine habit (e.g., Mountain Dew) and not be an insomniac.

2. Weighted blankets and soft sheets are a must.

3. Quiet blankets are supportive of a good night’s rest as well. A crackly sheet or comforter can wake the “light sleeping” teenager with the slightest movement.

4. Does your son or daughter scratch a lot at night? He or she is probably allergic to the detergent, or you may be putting too much soap in the wash and not getting a clean rinse.

5. Chamomile tea has been found to be helpful with sleep. The chamomile flower contains relaxants. At bedtime, have your teen drink a cup of pure chamomile (not the blends with peppermint or honey, which have stimulants that will be at cross purposes with the chamomile).

6. Do away with digital alarm clocks. They stare at the your teenager with bright red numbers, telling him how many hours and minutes until he has to get up for school. Digital clocks tend to raise the anxiety level of the teen. However, your teen should have a clock handy so he doesn’t have to get out of bed to check it. Cell phones or laptops nearby can do the trick.

7. Have some “downtime” before bed. Autistic teens need one hour of downtime for every hour of socializing, and this is especially true at night. Unlike most adolescents, teens with ASD can't just turn off the T.V., walk into the bedroom, and fall face first into bed, passed out like a drunken sailor. They need to engage in their rituals and routines and bring their adrenalin levels back to normal.

8. Earplugs will deaden noise, and although some teens say they don't like the feel of them, there are different shapes, materials and sizes. Most teens with ASD tend to prefer the medium size foam ones – although they almost always do fall out at some point – so keep an extra set handy so you don't have to scramble to find them in the middle of the night. Noise-canceling headphones are a good alternative to ear plugs.

9. Light cardio and fresh air are good precursors to good sleep. The teen may be lethargic or mentally exhausted if he has been sitting at the computer playing video games for 3 hours. Going for a short walk and getting some fresh air serves as a “pre-bedtime” relaxation exercise.

10. Lavender has been shown by researchers to usher in and improve the quality of sleep. You can use essential oil in an infuser, dried lavender in a sachet, or fresh lavender in a vase. Aromatherapy, in general, can be very relaxing (avoid stimulating scents like lemon, though).

11. Melatonin is not a sleeping pill – it's a natural sleep aid. However, the teen should not take more than 3 mgs (even though it is sometimes sold in 5mg tablets), because that much may act like a depressant the next day. Your teen can start with 3mgs, and then take an additional 1-2 mgs later if he wakes up too early (e.g., 3:00 AM).

12. White noise (e.g., from a fan) is also a good way to block out unwanted sounds.

13. Relaxation CDs (e.g., rain forest sounds) can be quite soothing for some ASD teens.

14. Some find the television (set at a low volume) to be calming, helping them to drop off into a relaxing sleep. However, others report that watching television before bed works more like a stimulant for them. Thus, decide if bedtime television is right for your teen.

15. Vigorous exercise has been reported to help ASD teens get to sleep more quickly – and to stay asleep longer. However, make sure he does not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.


Anonymous said...
just dont accidently give your child his am pill(adderal) thinking your giving him his pm pill(remeron) from all the confusing caios. he is still awake in his room taking his legos apart and putting them back together. defiently getting med trays

Anonymous said...
My 15 year old doesn't seem to need as much sleep, is this common for Aspies? When he sleeps, he sleeps soundly and gets himself up using his cell phone alarm.

Anonymous said...
This is a great article, my son has always had trouble sleeping, we are going through this list and trying everything on it, thanks!

Anonymous said...
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AmEpHySt said...
I am going to an professional to get sleeping tablets suitable for my 8 yr old because he gets no sleep at all. Melatonin may work for some but not for all. That's a reality. He's been mistaken as sick when in fact he's tired from lack of sleep and his eating habits turned to crap because of it.

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