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Autism & Toddler Sleep

Something I’ve come to learn due to a friend who’s like a sister to me, is how Autism can effect sleep. There’s so much out there regarding children with Autism but I’ve never actually heard of how it can effect sleep in toddlers until she was experiencing it in her own life!

Over half of children with Autism struggle with sleep which can make things worse.

In an article by Spectrum News it was stated that “it’s unclear why or how sleep is derailed more often in people with Autism than the general population, but a few theories have begun to emerge.”

One idea is that their circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) might be malfunctioned because of the dysregulation of melatonin, which is needed for proper sleep.

Another theory is the side effects that their medication might have; become overly stimulated, not allowing their body to relax, which is one of the reasons doctors prescribe melatonin.

Melatonin is great for helping people fall asleep, but it doesn’t make anyone STAY asleep, which is why we still see night wakings. It’s important to note that consistent long-term use of melatonin has been shown to have side effects such as nightmares, headaches, dizziness, being groggy, and more.

Recently, it is thought that children who have Autism spend less time in REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), which is where most dreaming happens and is said to be “key for memory and learning.” Poor sleep can effect daytime behavior for any child but much more for those with Autism.

However, there are things parents can do and look out for to implement good sleep habits.

A research done by the Autism Treatment Network showed that if a toddler exhibits repetitive behaviors like lining their toys, flapping their hands, or rocking it can actually create a problem falling asleep because they can end up getting mad, throwing a “tantrum,” or even have trouble focusing on what you, the parent, are trying to do.

Things For Parents To Focus On When It Comes To Sleep

What excites them?

What makes them scared?

How do they handle the routine you have in place?

What does their day look like? Too stimulating?

Ways to Help Your Toddler Sleep Better

Keep their room dark and relaxed/Try red light therapy instead of a nightlight

Have white noise running all night to drown out distracting noises

Do a massage, breathing or stretching exercises to get them relaxed

Create a bedtime chart so they can have a visual of what’s going to happen

Create a calming environment

Rewards! Children love rewards!

Give them plenty of physical activity

Give them a schedule that works for their age, and them specifically

Give them a bedtime routine that’s simple

Keep them taking naps as long as possible

If organizing is a part of their life, add that into their bedtime routine

If they are in a toddler bed, keep the room safe. Treat it like a big crib

If sensory is of concern, look at the material of their bedding and pajamas

Teach your child how to fall asleep on their own. They can be sleep trained with methods tweaked for the way they best understand.

CONSISTENCY! Whatever you decide to do as part of their routine, keep it consistent.

If you’re struggling to get your child sleeping better, please reach out to see if there’s something we can do to help them get better sleep.


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