“I’m so tired, he/she NEVER sleeps!”
I’ve heard this too many times to count from Mamas that are stressed out (sleep deprived) and ready to pull their hair out over their child’s sleep struggles. If you have a child that is Autistic, odds are, your child has had some sort of issue with going to sleep. Maybe they’re hard to settle at night or maybe they don’t stay asleep, either way sleep struggles are a common issue when it comes to children on the spectrum. These tips below will help you help your child get the sleep that they very much need. (Make sure you are consulting with your pediatrician about your child’s sleep struggles as well).
This is the very first thing that all Mamas (not just Mamas with kids on the spectrum) should be doing with their children that struggle with transitions like going to bed. Children need to know what’s coming up next. By knowing what’s next, they can prepare for the things that they find fun and also prepare for the things that they find not so fun. Bedtime is often look at as one of those not so fun things, but if you get a good bedtime routine in place, your child might start like it as it’s a good one on one time with Mama.
For example, a good bedtime routine would consist of Bath, Books, & Bedtime. This routine could be started an hour before bedtime.
6pm-Bath (Play bath games with your child as well as teach your child about their body and the importance of cleaning properly. Allow the last 15 minutes of this time to get your child out of the bath, get dressed for bedtime, use the potty, etc…)
7pm-Books (Have your child pick out a couple of books and then get them into the bed. You and your child can actively read the books together. Use the last 15 minutes to countdown to bed time. “15 minutes left, 10 minutes left, 5 minutes left…)
8pm-Bedtime (Lights out!)
Break the Cycle
If your child isn’t staying asleep after bedtime, it’s important to keep your child in his/her bed (or at least in his/her room). Keep all electronics off and don’t allow your child to play with toys. The room should be free of any stimulation. The goal is to get your child to understand that he or she may be awake, but it is not time to be up. In other words, keep it pretty boring….
Meet their Sensory Needs
It is imperative that you not only know what your child’s sensory issues are, but you that you know what to do to make sure they are getting the sensory input that they so greatly need throughout the day. Trying to put your child to bed without having a good sensory diet in play throughout the day is the equivalent to you yourself drinking a pot of coffee before bed and expecting to fall asleep and stay asleep. A lot of children on the spectrum may be tired, but their bodies are high wired due to their sensory needs not being met. Consult your child’s Occupational therapist or the doctor that diagnosed your child for the specific sensory issues that your child has and then educate yourself on those specific issues to create a sensory diet that you can follow through the day leading into the evening before bedtime.
To medicate or not to medicate
In some cases, prescription medication may need to be involved, but not a second before the above suggestions are attempted. Medications have all kinds of side effects and you may be creating more issues with your child by trying them. Melatonin is a popular natural substitute, but even then, melatonin is not a long-term solution. (Please consult with your pediatrician before you try Melatonin or any other over the counter sleep medication regardless of how “natural” the bottle promotes itself to be.)
When your child has problems with sleeping, it can be draining for your child, yourself, and the other members of your household. Make sure that you are doing your part to promote healthy sleeping habits. No child should be left to play all day long without structure and exposure to the outdoors. It’s your job as Mama to make sure that you have knowledge about your child sensory struggles so when it comes to bedtime, their bodies are at rest and not trying to receive sensory input. If you are thinking about medication after creating a bedtime routine (and you have used this routine consistently over a few weeks) make sure you consult with your pediatrician, even it’s an over the counter medication like melatonin.