How Does Autism Affect Sleep?
Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder with a wide range of symptoms that can impact social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, learning, and repetitive behaviors. But, like Smith-Magenis Syndrome and Angelman Syndrome, autism can also have a significant impact on sleep, influencing the health of both the diagnosed individual and their family members.
By better managing the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder and practicing better sleep hygiene on a daily basis, you can encourage restful, restorative sleep for your loved one!
Why Does Autism Affect Sleep?
Although autism’s specific symptoms may vary from person to person, there are numerous ways autism can prevent healthy sleep. For example, some of the most common ways autism affects sleep include:
- Trouble relaxing or winding down at the end of the day – It’s normal for children and adults with autism to have trouble relaxing, especially after a long day of stimulation.
- Irregular melatonin levels – Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that supports your circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, many children with melatonin have low melatonin levels, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
- Anxiety – About half of people with autism experience high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. Heightened anxiety levels could make it difficult for children and adults with anxiety to nap during the day or fall asleep at night.
- Epilepsy – Individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer from seizures. Seizures can have a negative influence on sleep, which can create a cycle of issues, as poor quality sleep can contribute to more seizures in the future.
- Sensory issues – Individuals with autism often have heightened sensory perception, and any sort of additional stimulation at night could disrupt their sleep. Loud noises from the street, scratchy bed sheets, and even light from the hallway can negatively impact sleep among individuals on the autism spectrum.
- Nighttime eloping – Research in Pediatrics shows nearly half of children with autism are likely to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. If these children are actively wandering the home or slipping outside without adult supervision, they could encounter life-threatening situations. In fact, eloping can be fatal, with 71% of lethal outcomes stemming from drowning and traffic injuries accounting for another 18%.
Unfortunately, any sort of interference with restful, restorative sleep can negatively affect a child’s symptoms on a daily basis. A lack of sleep can directly hamper performance at school, therapy, and many other activities throughout the day.
How to Improve Sleep With Autism
If your child and family as struggling to maintain a consistent and healthy sleep schedule, here are some useful strategies to follow:
- Stick to a consistent bedtime routine. Your bedroom routine should become a familiar, relaxing tradition to avoid overwhelming your child while simultaneously encouraging sleep. A relaxing bath, dimming the lights, and slipping into comfortable pajamas could be enough to help prepare your child for bed each night. A major part of your bedtime routine should be sticking to a consistent bedtime. This can be especially helpful for individuals who appreciate punctuality and routines.
- Get plenty of physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to increase melatonin production, and it can also encourage rest by ensuring your child is tired by the end of the day. Plus, additional fatigue in their muscles may help them be still and calm at bedtime!
- Avoid caffeine. We all know caffeine can disrupt healthy sleep, but it can also increase anxiety and nervousness—two big symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you’d like to help your child reduce their caffeine intake, check the sides of sodas, teas, and sports drinks to ensure caffeine isn’t slipped in unexpectedly!
- Block out sensory distractions. Individuals with autism may be more sensitive to lights and noises, which could be especially distracting around bedtime. To help, consider trying the following strategies:
- Use black-out curtains to block lights from outside.
- Consider using a towel or door sweep to block light from the hallway.
- Reduce noise in and around the house. If there is a lot of street noise, consider using a bedroom in the back of the home.
- Use a white noise machine. A white noise machine may not be ideal for every child on the autism spectrum, but it could be beneficial for certain individuals.
- Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment. Eliminating all distracting sounds and lights is a strong first step, but so is offering a fully enclosed safety bed like The Safety Sleeper®. In our experience, a comfortable and enclosed environment is often enough to help calm the individual at the end of the day—and it prevents dangerous nighttime wandering!
- Take additional safety steps. If nighttime wandering is a possibility and you don’t have a fully enclosed safety bed yet, be mindful of the way your child’s bedroom is arranged. For example, padding the child’s door knob and other surfaces can prevent physical harm due to bumping. In addition, ensuring your child’s windows are locked and all chairs and climbable objects are far away from the window can prevent them from climbing out.
The Safety Sleeper® and Autism
The original prototype of The Safety Sleeper® was actually designed for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which led to the soft, fully enclosed design of The Safety Sleeper® and its emphasis on child safety, especially in preventing elopement. In fact, we’ve heard from many parents that The Safety Sleeper® is their child’s “safe place.”
Thanks to its easy-to-clean and fully enclosed design, The Safety Sleeper® is a convenient option for children with a variety of developmental disorders, and it can help the entire family sleep better at night.
Watch this video to hear how it helped one parent of a child with autism:
Visit our page on autism and The Safety Sleeper to learn more!
Learn More About The Safety Sleeper®
The Safety Sleeper® offers a variety of fully enclosed safety bed models, all of which are intended to meet each child’s unique medical requirements.
Like similar beds on the market, The Safety Sleeper® is a special needs bed covered by insurance, which makes it affordable to families regardless of their economic status.
Contact us to learn more!