Kiddos and Sleep

Monica Walker

Posted on April 11 2018

Sleep is very a very important part of your mental and physical well-being. The way you feel while awake is a direct correlation of what is happening during sleep. While you are sleeping your body is repairing and recovering, supporting healthy brain functioning and helping to maintain physical health. In children sleep also supports development and growth. Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. It also has been linked to risk-taking behavior and depression.  Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others, may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, therefore get lower grades and feel stressed. Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing or prolonged sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.  I say all this to say, sleep problems/disorder is a common comorbid disorder with autism.

Sleep problems in children with autism is very high, as high as 80% in fact.  It is reported that poor sleepers exhibit more problematic behaviors than those kiddos with autism that are good sleepers.  The most common problem is difficulty falling asleep, also repeated awakenings throughout the night.  Research has shown there may be abnormalities in the brain that regulate sleep, also being studied are levels of hormones such as melatonin and other chemicals released in the brain that are supposed to regulate sleep.  All of these studies are in the early stages and therefore nothing definitive exists.  The fact that the National Sleep Foundation recommends 11-13 hours for preschool children, 10-11 hours for school aged children and 9.5 hours for adolescents, tells you how important sleep is for young developing minds.  Therefore, the fact that these kiddos are getting substantially less than this in some cases is unfortunate.

Maddox has never been a perfect sleeper, never as much of a pro at it as MJ...(that one can sleep for 12 hours straight!). But from about 8 months to 15-18 months he slept soundly through the night, went to sleep at a decent time, etc. He then started have trouble getting to sleep so we started melatonin, however the problem with melatonin was that it would get him to sleep but wouldn’t KEEP him asleep. So we stopped it and tried the normal methods, getting him to be active so he would be tired, consistent routine, limiting screen time before bed, baths with lavender, etc, etc. None of it worked with much consistency, BUT he would get great nights of sleep some nights and not so great other nights. Sleep was and has been very inconsistent, but at the end of 2016 it got so much worse.  There was a spell of 2-3 months that he would sleep for 3 Hours (usually until about 12am, depending on the time he went to sleep, which was very inconsistent) and then from there wake up every 1-2 hours.  Some nights he would wake up at about 3-4am and wouldn't go back to sleep until the next evening.  Once again we started to try different things, melatonin this had little affect, sometimes it would make him sleep a little longer than 3 hours, but he would still get up.  We also tried a Weighted Blanket I had heard so many great things, even his doctor recommended it as there was some success with other clients and families, however no such luck with Maddox, (he does love it because of the sensory input it provides, but not so much for sleep).  We now have some relief (after changing around some of his ADHD meds), he still is very inconsistent with bedtimes and will wake most nights at 3am and most times go back to sleep within an hour, BUT some nights still won't go back to sleep until the next evening.  IF he goes to sleep before 9pm, he most definitely will wake at some point.  I would say about 2 nights out of the week he will sleep through the night from about 9:30pm-6:30am.  Those nights, I celebrate!!!  So if you see an autism parent and they look tired, they probably are!!!  Ciao for now...Monica

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