Autism Moms and Sleep (Or Lack There Of)
Where my girls at? Or shall I say fellow zombies? Ever feel like you haven’t slept in over a decade? That’s me. Autism Moms and sleep are two words that don’t often go together.
My teenager on the autism spectrum rarely sleeps, so therefore neither do I. And he sleepwalks…which scares me to death (we have stairs he could fall down!). According to Autism Speaks, as reportedly as high as 80 percent of children with ASD have sleep problems (Source).
Why Aren’t We Sleeping?
Autism moms reveal a number of sleep issues with their kids ranging from night time anxiety to sleep walking. Some kids will fall asleep, only to wake often and incredibly early, while others don’t fall asleep at all! Yes, there are sleep aids and medication, but those don’t work for everyone. Many of us have gotten professional sleep help, but no matter what happens us autism moms (and dads) seem to pull the night shift.
The Importance of Sleep
We all know sleep is crucial to function. When our kids aren’t sleeping and we are not sleeping, everyone is irrational and a bit crazy. Instead of beating each other up about it, which is counterproductive, try to embrace your child’s sleep needs. I know it can be crazy hard to be rational with you’re exhausted.
Autism Moms and Sleep Solutions
My son never slept as a baby and those first three years were so hard (and wonderful too!), but now that he’s a teenager, I’m completely used to his sleep patterns and have adjusted to them. Instead of complaining about the sleep I’m not getting, I utilize that time together with him, and then catch up on sleep when he’s at school, or on a weekend when I can unless I’m working. I seem to sleep in spurts.
Here are some Autism Moms and Sleep Tips that have helped us.
Sensory Sleep Needs
As autism moms we are familiar with discovering what our children need in all aspects of their lives, and sleep is not any different. Will a weighted blanket help them feel more grounded? What about a noise machine? I’ve found a nightlight that switches colors, or a lava lamp can be soothing and mesmerizing. Try different things to make your child’s bedroom more sensory friendly.
Treat yourself to a sensory friendly bedroom as well! Remember the rule, when they sleep – you do!
Are Phones and Tablets Creating a Problem?
My child can’t live without their iPad, right. I get it. But there has to be a cut off time so that they do not delay the expression of the sleep hormone melatonin (source). I tried taking my son’s phone away, but that seemed to cause his anxiety to spike and pushed sleep further away. Instead of removing the phone, we turn the lights down and adjust the brightness to night shift. There are apps that make your phone more night time friendly as well, such as Sleep Cycle.
Another option is having your child wear blue light blocking glasses specifically designed to NOT block melatonin production. Find a few examples here and here.
Magnesium and Nutrients
Personally, a spritz of magnesium oil sends me into a deep slumber (I use ancient minerals). Some people prefer to drink magnesium (my teenager uses this, my toddler takes Child Life), or take a supplement. However you choose, your body needs magnesium in order to sleep. So many of us are magnesium deficient these days, so talk to your teen’s team or doctor to see what the best form of magnesium is for your family.
Learn more about magnesium and sleep here.
Exercise & Movement
My son has always had an enormous amount of pent up energy. He wore out three mini-trampolines in elementary school, and now he’s a teenager going through puberty, so his body craves physical activity. The amount of exercise his body requires in a day is extreme and if he doesn’t get it, he doesn’t sleep. He has PE at school (where they run the mile) and then he has 13 hours of dance classes over the 6 day span where he’s sweating a ton.
How much movement does your child require? Are they getting enough jumping, running, and real physical exertion to wear them out? Find something they love so that it doesn’t feel like exercise. It took us years to find dance, after a ton of trial and error.
Again, exercise! Some kids won’t require much. Maybe a walk. Some swimming. Play the Wii active games. But if your child is on the couch all day, their body may not move into natural sleep cycles. As always, talk to your physician about your child’s individual needs.
Keep a Sleep Diary
If you’re really not having any luck getting your child or teenager to sleep an acceptable amount of hours, meaning they and you are able to function, start a sleep diary. This will help a professional see what could be causing the lack of sleep, and it will also help you spot anything that may be the sleep deprivation culprit.
Try Things That Interest You
Don’t be afraid to try anything that people have labeled an old wive’s tale or even ridiculous. Some people get tired from warm milk. Although I don’t drink cow’s milk, I don’t judge anyone who does! So do whatever helps you and your family sleep through the night.
I’m currently experimenting with a Himalayan Salt Lamp in my bedroom because it supposedly removes negative ions, boosts blood flow, and improves sleep. Have I noticed a difference in the last 3 nights? Not at all, but I’m interested enough to keep trying to see if I feel any benefits.
So do what works for you! And I wish all of you Autism Moms and Sleep Readers amazing sleep and happiness.