Sleep helps us to reset our bodies from the present day as well as preparing it for the following one. Many people suffer from sleep problems, which can also have an impact on their general health. For autistic people, and particularly children, sleep problems are more prevalent – estimates vary however, between 64 and 86% of autistic children have issues with sleep.¹ ² This could be anything from difficulty getting to sleep, night terrors or oversleeping.
At Tram House School we take sleep health very seriously and as such we are a Sleep Right recognised school. Below we’ll cover a few of the causes of sleep issues as well as some strategies and tips to help improve any sleep disturbances.
Causes of sleep problems
Autistic children having trouble sleeping can be caused by a range of factors.
- Children may find getting to sleep difficult if they have trouble winding down from the day. This inability to relax can be triggered by increased anxiety
- Conversely if additional stress leads to exhaustion, children may sleep for too long – a condition known as hypersomnia
- Any additional sensory needs that the child has can impact upon sleep. For example increased sensitivity to noises and smells in the bedroom
- Other medical conditions, whether neurological (e.g. epilepsy) or gastrointestinal (e.g. food allergies) can also impact upon a child’s sleep
If your child is having trouble sleeping, there are a number of things you can do to help improve their sleep pattern. If you suspect that it might be a medical problem or if sleep problems are causing your child difficulties throughout the day as well as at night, contact your GP in the first instance.
Autism and sleep support strategies
Before looking at individual solutions it’s important to try and work out the cause of sleep issues. Sleep diaries are a great way of creating an overall picture of the situation. It is important to include the following when constructing a sleep diary:
- Time and length of any naps taken during the day
- When the bedtime routine was started and if there were any issues
- What time they went to bed and when they fell asleep
- How many times they woke up during the night, what time it was and how long they were awake for
- Time of wake up in the morning
- Total number of hours sleep
For more detail you can add in what activities they did shortly before bed, what their general mood was at bedtime and wake up, and anything else you think might be useful.
After a couple of weeks, patterns start to emerge that may point to where an issue lies. Perhaps they struggle sleeping at night when they’ve had a lengthy nap during the day, or they might have a disturbed night if they do a particular activity before bed.