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Making Your Child's Bedroom More Conducive To Sleep

“Our 5 y.o. boy has been diagnosed with autism (high functioning). Any suggestions on how to make his bedroom more favorable for sleeping? We have been told by the therapist that he may be over-stimulated by the digital gadgets, toys, games, etc., in his room – and that these items are distracting him from falling asleep. This is a plausible theory, because he will get out of bed late into the night to play around. Also, he is easily aroused by the slightest noises through the night.”

It is important that the bed and the bedroom are associated with sleep and are not associated with activity. When young people with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s have sleep problems, it is highly recommended that their bed and bedroom activity be limited to sleep only. Also, it's important to make sure that extreme changes in temperature are avoided during the night.

Increasing light is associated with decreases in the release of the neuro-chemical melatonin, which triggers sleep onset. Thus, it is important to get the sunlight flowing in the child’s room as soon as possible in the morning. Conversely, darkening the room at night is critical. When a child’s fear of the dark is an issue, behavioral psychotherapy may be necessary. I also recommend moving the clock so that the child is not watching the time while lying in bed.

Here are a few additional suggestions that will help facilitate a good night’s rest:
  • Cool colors (those from the left side of the color wheel) are thought to provide a sense of calm. Choose one of these for your child’s bedroom, and avoid bright, loud colors that are more exciting than soothing.
  • If your child needs a little light to sleep comfortably, consider adding a couple of nightlights or a dimmer switch rather than having him sleep with a lamp on all the time.
  • Loud pipes might be keeping your child awake when one person makes a bathroom visit in the middle of the night. Look for the cause of any clanging and banging, particularly in a bathroom that may be adjacent to his bedroom.
  • Make sure doors and windows are solid and secure, with no drafts or rattles. 
  • Make sure that rooms adjacent to your child’s bedroom are not home to stereos, televisions or other noisy electronics. Most modern homes don't have completely soundproofed walls, and the bleed-through noise may be keeping him awake.
  • Organize closets and keep your child’s clothing and other personal items in their places. A chaotic, messy room is stressful to the mind. 
  • Select light-blocking window treatments. Even though the sun isn't out, plenty of light can sneak into the bedroom from outside, disrupting your child’s sleep patterns. 
  • Use an air purifier or humidifier to keep air quality at its best. Allergens and excessively dry air can interrupt a child’s sleep and make waking up unpleasant, too. Also, many machines create a white noise that drowns out other distracting sounds, which is often very appealing to children on the autism spectrum.
  • One mother suggests the following: "We also used either a sound machine (played nature sounds) or a CD with relaxing instrumental music to help our son get to sleep or stay asleep. That seemed to help reduce waking up from other people moving around after he went to bed." 

As a side note, many parents report that Melatonin (a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which has been shown to regulate sleep patterns) has been highly beneficial in helping their child with sleep difficulties.  For kids on the autism spectrum, the patterns of melatonin secretion may be irregular, so it is not that they don't produce it, but that they don't produce it at the right times of day. 

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