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Autism & sleep: A Parents Guide

Around 2% of children aged between 0-15 in the UK have a diagnosis of Autism (Rydzewska, et al 2019). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and sleep issues often go hand in hand meaning it is really important that families of children with or without diagnosis have access to support and information relating to managing sleep!

An Overview of Autism:

Autism impacts how information is received and processed by the brain, and affects how nerve cells are connected and organised.

ASD exists on a spectrum so individuals can experience a range of symptoms which is also true for their sleep. There are three core areas where children with autism can struggle which include: social, behavioural & communication difficulties.

Some of the characteristics or symptoms of Autism can often be seen from as early as 6 months, so it is understandable how this may impact sleep from a very young age.

To help your autistic child sleep better, it's important to understand the specific challenges they may face and how they can impact their sleep.

Here are some common sleep challenges:

Difficulty Falling Asleep:

Children with Autism can often have irregular melatonin production and circadian rhythms, which is why they are often described as "wakeful"!

This can contribute to them having more difficulty falling asleep.

Monitoring their sleep using a sleep diary and noting their behaviour can be a useful way to better understand their unique sleep needs. Children with ASD may have slightly different sleep needs than their peers so taking this into consideration is important too!

You can check out this blog to see just how much sleep children should be getting!

Sensory sensitivities:

Sensitivities to sensory experiences can have a really big impact on getting to and staying, asleep.

Sensory processing relates to the way the brain interprets and responds to information from the environment.

During day-to-day life, it’s the brain's job to receive and manage information from lots of different sensory systems and then work to interpret stimuli.

For many of us with normal sensory integration, these inputs aren’t really recognised, but for someone who has sensory processing or integration challenges then this can be overwhelming and lead to dysregulation.

Some children may find some kinds of touch, pressure, or movement calming and grounding, whilst others become over-stimulated and stressed.

Understanding the kind of touch and sensation your little ones prefer is important because they often can’t communicate their preferences. Recognising these patterns of behaviour towards things like light, sound, sensations and experiences can help us to know how best to support calming and regulating their emotions before sleep.

Night Awakenings:

Often those with autism can wake in the night and find it tricky to get back off to sleep. Historically humans would have slept in what's called biphasic sleep, this means that they would go to bed early and sleep for several hours before waking in the middle of the night to socialise and eat, they would then go back to bed for more rest. The industrial revolution saw sleep move towards a more mono-phasic pattern that we see today!

Supporting little people whatever their developmental stage or needs requires gentle and responsive care, offering a range of support strategies. This is why I created my 60-page Autism & Sleep guide to explore responsive, compassionate, and gentle approaches to help your autistic child, aged 4 months to 5 years, establish healthy sleep habits and experience more restful nights!

You can check out the guide here!

Love & Sleepy Dust,

Imogen X

The Little Sleep Company


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