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Autism and sleep disorders

Sleep disorders are commonly associated with ASD, with many children having difficulties in falling asleep or maintaining sleep and studies have shown that sleep disorders occur in an estimated 50% to 80% of children with ASD.

Some strategies that may help with establishing a successful sleep routine:

  • Ensure you have a bedtime routine at the same time every night and stick to it.
  • Make going to sleep enjoyable by singing a favourite bedtime song, reading a favourite bedtime story, or giving your child a favourite stuffed animal.
  • Be aware of your child’s sensitivities and arrange the bedroom accordingly. For a child with visual sensitivities who needs complete darkness, install blackout blinds. Use plug in nightlights for a child who needs some light. For a child with auditory sensitivities, keep the noise levels low. Install a white noise machine if necessary. For a child with kinaesthetic sensitivities, make sure sheets and blankets are made of fabrics that are tolerable for him. Sometimes a gravity blanket may help. Pushing a bed against a wall can also make children feel safe.
  • Melatonin levels have been found to be low in individuals with autism. People with autism found that melatonin supplementation significantly shortened latency to fall asleep and increased sleep duration. Contact your doctor to discuss supplementation of melatonin.
  • Epsom salt baths, a good source of magnesium, can work for calming some autistic children. The active ingredient, magnesium sulfate, relaxes, calms, and detoxifies the body. Sitting in a warm bath with about one cup of dissolved Epsom salts for 15 to 20 minutes can calm down a stressed, hyperactive child.

It is also worth considering other factors that may be affecting your child’s sleep pattern, for e.g. does your child drink soft drinks in the afternoon/evening before bedtime, do they eat high sugary food late in the afternoon, are there distractions in his bedroom that prevent him from winding down? Altering some of these may have a positive effect.

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