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Excessive Sleeplessness in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"We've been getting complaints from our high functioning autistic daughter's teacher that she doses off during 'study time'. It's becoming a real problem. She seems wide awake and full of energy at home though. What would you suggest?"

According to studies on sleeplessness in children with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA):

• 50% feel un-refreshed when waking up in the morning
• 50% are disinclined to go to bed
• 75% fall asleep sweating
• 75% have a need for a light or television in the bedroom
• 87% feel sleepy during the day
• 87% have difficulty getting to sleep at night
• 87% have difficulty waking up in the morning

The incidence of sleep difficulties in this population seems to be extremely high. Many parents of kids with HFA complain that this problem is one of the most serious they face. Unfortunately, when these young people are unable to sleep, they do not usually remain quietly in bed. They are often up and out of bed, making noise, interfering with their parents’ sleep and requiring adult supervision.

Identifying the child’s particular issues will help you make a plan to provide a soothing and inviting atmosphere for sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine is essential especially with sleep problems associated with the disorder.

Look into the following suggestions that could help you identify what will work best:

1. Identify foods that should be avoided before bedtime. There are also many foods that you can find in an online search that naturally help with the sleep cycles of your body as well.

2. Identify if noise is a problem. Is there a need for a rhythmic noise like a fan in the background? White noise provides a steady monotone sound that helps filter out distracting noises. Maybe on the flip side there is noise that is a sensory problem that could be removed such as a ticking clock? Ear plugs may also help in this situation.

3. If they are fidgety or need to be physically calmed down often a “weighted blanket” can be used. This is simply a custom made cushion or blanket filled with a heavier filler material like poly-pellets, sand, or even beads. The deep pressure of the blanket helps calm and promote sleep.

4. Is light an issue? Do they need a nightlight? Do they need complete darkness to help settle their brain as there will be no visual stimuli available?
5. Is their brain still on overdrive? Do they have something on their mind that will not allow it to slow down until they resolve it? Often turning off the television, music, electronic devices and other outside stimuli can help them wind down. Reading often is a good replacement as it helps them relax and focus. Often soft flowing music set low can help them relax.

6. Is there something to the touch that is bothering them? Certain fabrics can be texturally sensitive and annoying. Pillows not piled up correctly, or a bed not made correctly can be a distraction. Are they itching all the time and focusing only on that?

7. Medications have been used as well. Melatonin is an over the counter supplement found near most Vitamins in stores. Melatonin is a natural substance that the human body makes to induce sleep. Discuss ANY use of medication for sleeplessness with a doctor!

8. Taking a hot shower or bath can help some kids relax, however may have the opposite effect on others. Often scents like lavender used with a bath helps with relaxation.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


*   Anonymous said... my child falls asleep sweating, needs a light, but doesn't have a problem going to bed or waking up...
*   Anonymous said...  Yeah, that sweating thing is weird--never attributed it to the Aspergers before. Good to know.
•    Anonymous said... Dom was on melatonin and it worked for a good while but he now has real problems either getting to sleep or getting up but not sure how much is down to being a teenager
•    Anonymous said... Dr put Mine on clonidine. Only thing that works for him.
•    Anonymous said... Exactly like my little aspie!!!
•    Anonymous said... I have to ring mine every morning at Uni to help him wake up otherwise he will sleep through until 3-4 pm. He's tried everything but just simply can't make himself go to sleep
•    Anonymous said... I read that tart cherry juice helps with sleep. I have not tried yet
•    Anonymous said... I wish everyone understood this about Aspergers kids. A combination of ADHD and Anxiety can cause restlessness and the sleep patterns aren't consistent.
•    Anonymous said... ive tried every remedy listed and none of it works,melatonin did for a few weeks,,hes now 14 and seems to function quite well on little sleep so im not sure about other medication
•    Anonymous said... Meditation & melatonin work wonders for our little guy. Lack of sleep is awful for Aspies since they have trouble paying attention at school & keeping their emotions in check as it is.
•    Anonymous said... My 14 yr old aspie also has melatonin at night. She falls asleep with her beloved movie running in the background on the portable DVD player with the lid shut. Her problem is staying asleep - any hints to help her stay asleep?
•    Anonymous said... My eight year old reads himself to sleep every night. Part of my nightly routine is to go in and turn off the light, remove his reading glasses and put his book on his nightstand. He's so cute because he holds the book upright and still looks awake unless you look closely.
•    Anonymous said... My son is almost 16. He has been like this for so many years....
•    Anonymous said... My son just turned 5 and has been exactly this way for over a year with the sleep problems, we are currently still dealing with an ADHD combined type with ODD and a mood disorder for a diagnosis for him, however I still don't fee that is accurate, he is on respirdal twice a day for seeing "things or people" and vyvanse in the morning and trazadone at night to help put him to sleep in which it does not do its job, the other two meds work great though, any suggestions? We're also still struggling with potty training and he's already halfway through his 2nd year of school with peers his age
•    Anonymous said... My son to a tee ! Melatonin stopped working a loooong time ago it's horrid for them x
•    Anonymous said... My son took a combination of melatonin and clonadin for several years. Worked sell up until recently. His insomnia is horrible.
•    Anonymous said... My son's healthcare provider recommended GABA in the evening. Taken around dinner time, and following a strict routine (shower, snack, brushing, reading together while he is in bed) has resolved the problem in the evening.
•    Anonymous said... oh my, i thought it was only my son who had this problem
•    Anonymous said... This is my son as well. He takes melatonin, but it doesn't work all that well.
•    Anonymous said... This is our daughter to a tee.
•    Anonymous said... to top it off with the sleep issues, he's been waking up every night between 1 and 3 am and stays up till about 5:30, only 30 minutes before he has to go to school so he's extremely wore out
•    Anonymous said... What's GABA? My son takes melatonin but is now having trouble getting to sleep on it (not as bad though when he doesn't take it). He is starting high school next year too. He goes to sleep with music (eventually!). I have stopped any electronic games including iPod and computer at 7pm or sometimes earlier depending on his day. Does not have soft drink after 6:30pm nor chocolate. I check on him every night at intervals until he goes to sleep just to make sure he is not using anything electronic too.
•    Anonymous said... Ya, I have tried everything on this list except the weighted blanket (I already know he would hate that, he thinks some normal blankets are too heavy), and the Melatonin... The doctor ok'd the use of Melatonin, but I am still wishing I could get his sleep on track without medicine...
•    Anonymous said... yep.. my son... but what can we do to help our children... I've even tried melatonin, but it only works sometimes.

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