Autism and sleep: Putting issues to bed

At least half of children on the autism spectrum struggle with sleep patterns, with parents saying it’s closer to 80%. High anxiety, medication, or sleep apnea are real issues, so Ivanhoe has good advice leading to restorative sleep for parents and children.

Up to 16% of neurotypical children suffer from poor sleep, compared to 50% of children with autism.

“Different genes can affect how we either synthesize or make melatonin in the body, or how we break it down,” said Dr. Beth Malow, Director of the Sleep Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Anxiety, chronic insomnia, and middle-of-night awakenings are triggered for kids with no “off switch.”

“Anxiety versus over-arousal can be really tricky, especially if your child has limited language and can’t tell you what they’re experiencing. And the idea is that you just can’t turn your brain off,” Malow explained.

Rather than tackling problems at 3 a.m., parents are advised to rewind.

“I even go backward to what’s happening during the day. Because what’s happening during the day is going to feed into what happens at night,” said Malow.

Before bed, set the stage with quiet and low light. Plus, if sleep apnea is the cause, CPAP masks are now much less claustrophobic.

“Even people with autism, who have sensory sensitivities, can tolerate it,” said Malow.

And we all need our sleep!

Doctors say this advice should also increase REM sleep, in which we consolidate learning and clear the day’s debris from our brains. It’s most important for mental health, especially in those with autism, who get 10% less REM restorative sleep than neurotypical kids.

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