Sleep. Sleep is so important for maintaining our physical, emotional and mental health. It is a much discussed topic even just in casual conversation – I’m tired; I’m exhausted; I would love to have a nap; etc. So many of us simply don’t get enough sleep from day to day, and then for others it is the quality of their sleep that is the issue. I think we can all relate to sleep deprivation and the impact it can have on your day to day functioning and general sense of well being.
I know for me personally (and I’ll be discussing this more tomorrow) I have been certainly certifiable at different points due to sleep deprivation. I do not in any way want to minimise the enormity of the impacts of “sleep deprivation” in your home. It is debilitating and thoroughly exhausting, and sometimes despite our very best efforts and using every strategy suggested (and even those that were not!) sleep continues to be an issue. When you are truly suffering from lack of sleep, there is nothing worse than being told “everyone goes through that with their children” … it is so devaluing of the magnitude of the issue in your home. It is not my intent to make this issue appear simple to fix … I know that’s not always the case … I’m just hoping to offer some insights into sleep – how much we need and how to create a good sleep environment.
Individuals with Autism often have issues with sleeping. These problems can be caused by a number of factors.
- Irregular melatonin secretion (a problem common to those with ASD)
- Sensory issues (noises, textures might make the process of falling asleep difficult)
- Food and drink (food sensitivities, caffeine in the diet might contribute to sleeplessness)
- Anxiety (being worried about being able to get to sleep; fear of nightmares; modulating to a different state may feel unpleasant, frightening)
- Other comorbid conditions may also contribute (epilepsy/seizure disorders, sleep apnoea, OCD, Anxiety, asthma)
- Medication (recent changes in medication or the types of medication the individual is taking (eg stimulants such as Ritalin) might cause sleeplessness)
So do you actually know how much sleep you and your family should be getting?
Sleep deprivation causes so many side effects – loss of alertness, loss of ability to maintain focus, mood swings, poor energy and motivation, decreased reaction times, impulsivity, reduced productivity, poor physical vitality, poor general health and more.
So what can you do if someone in your house with ASD is experiencing issues with sleep?
- Ensure you have a good bedtime routine and that you try to follow this routine every day (use a visual support for this where necessary)
- Ensure that you have seen a medical practitioner for direction – you may need to speak to a sleep specialist
- Start to wind down 30-45 minutes before bedtime – read a book, have a bath, listen to music etc
- Cease using electronic devices especially ipads, iphones and laptops (the light interferes with melatonin levels and sends alerting messages to the brain)
- Dim the lights in your home, bedroom
- Make sure the bedroom is dark, cool and comfortable and away from excessive noise
- Organise your bedding according to your preferences and what makes you comfortable
- Exercise – running and playing 3 hours before bedtime can help improve sleep quality
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night
- Avoid big meals close to bedtime
- Caffeine – avoid caffeinated drinks and foods (chocolate, coffee, softdrinks etc) especially in the afternoon and evenings
Sometimes despite doing all of these things and more – including standing on your head and whistling “Dixie” – your child may still experience significant issues with sleep. This can impact hugely on sleep quality for parents and other siblings in the house as well. If your partner is experiencing sleep issues, again it impacts on you and your quality of sleep. Sleeping issues should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Seeking medical assistance is recommended and ensuring a full and comprehensive investigation of the issues at hand is imperative to ensure that serious conditions such as sleep apnoea etc are not overlooked. More on sleep tomorrow ….