Autism can make sleeping a real challenge. Here are some helpful bedtime tips: ScienceAlert

Good sleep is important for children’s learning and development. When young people don’t get enough sleep, it can affect their mood, school performance, health and behaviour.

The impact of sleep on quality of life is a force that everyone can relate to. For children with neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), poor sleep can have even more far-reaching effects not only on the child’s mental health, but also on the parents’ mental health and stress levels. .

Up to 80 percent of autistic children have problems sleeping. Common behavior difficulties reported by parents include insomnia (trouble falling asleep), parasomnias (trouble waking during the night) and early morning waking. These problems tend to persist if not treated effectively.

Behavioral interventions are an important first step in treating sleep problems for children. Specifically, our research found that sleep problems can be effectively treated in autistic children when sleep strategies are tailored to the children’s needs.

And the techniques can be useful for all families struggling with poor children’s sleep.

Our research

Sleeping Sound is a program that adapts strategies to the young person’s sleep needs and preferences. Originally created to help manage sleep problems in typically developing children, Sleeping Sound has been adapted over the past decade to help children with autism and ADHD.

We conducted a randomized controlled trial – the gold standard for determining whether an intervention works – with 245 autistic children aged 5-13 and their parents. Families were randomly assigned to the intervention group (received Sleep Sound) or the control group (did not receive Sleep Sound).

Families in the intervention group participated in two 50-minute face-to-face sessions and a follow-up phone call with a pediatrician or psychologist. They received an assessment, sleep education, and individualized practical strategies that were personalized for their child and family.

What did we find?

We found families who received the Sleeping Sound intervention had fewer sleep problems compared to families who did not receive the intervention. These benefits to children’s sleep were still present up to a year later.

We also saw positive results for children (improved quality of life, better emotional and behavioral functioning) and their parents (reduced stress levels, improved mental health and quality of life).

Parents of autistic children said that family support and consistency with strategies were important. This is consistent with the future direction of personalized autism healthcare, which recognizes the unique strengths, needs and circumstances of autistic individuals and their families.

While the program is still in a pilot phase and not available to families in the wider community, it uses strategies that all parents can adopt to improve their children’s sleep.

Tips for improving children’s sleep

Parents can help their children sleep well by using the universal approach to sleep readiness and behavioral sleep strategies. This includes:

  • setting a regular sleep and wake time
  • creating a safe, comfortable sleep environment (cool, quiet, dark, no screen)
  • following a regular bedtime routine that is calming and sleep-inducing
  • avoiding caffeine, electronic devices and excitement before bed
  • encouraging physical activity during the day
  • avoiding exercise one hour before bedtime.

What if good sleep remains elusive?

In addition to practicing healthy sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine, parents can try different behavioral strategies that may help their child. These include:

The control method

This strategy can be helpful when children need a parent in the room to sleep or have trouble staying in their bedroom.

Put your child to bed, but promise to come back and check on him. Visit your child at regular intervals during the night to check on and reassure them. Gradually stretch the interval times.

Checks should be boring and short (about a minute).

Bedtime fade

This strategy can be useful when children cannot fall asleep at the desired bedtime.

Temporarily adjust bedtime based on when your child naturally falls asleep. Gradually advance the bedtime in 15-minute increments every few days until the desired bedtime is reached.

Relaxation training

These strategies can be helpful when children are restless at bedtime or have trouble falling asleep.

Teach your child progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage your child to lie down with his eyes closed, then tense and relax all the muscles in his body, one by one.

Teach your child controlled breathing. Help them learn to take long, slow breaths in through their noses and out through their mouths.

Encourage your child to write or draw the things that worry them during the day and put them in a ‘worry box’.

Children may experience one or more sleep problems, so a combination of behavioral sleep strategies may be required. If you are concerned about your child’s sleep or if sleep problems persist, consult your pediatrician or doctor for further guidance.

We are currently recruiting for our new study evaluating the Sleeping Sound intervention via telehealth, through the Krongold Clinic at Monash University. If you are the parent of an autistic child aged 5–12 who is experiencing sleep problems and would like to learn more, please visit our website.The conversation

Nicole Rinehart, Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychology, Director, Krongold Clinic (Research), Monash University. Emily Pattison, Researcher, Psychologist, Monash University and Nicole Papadopoulou, Senior Lecturer, School of Educational Psychology & Counselling, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *