Autism and Sleep

I briefly highlighted the difficulties with sleep in the 8th Sense blog. Some people are under-responsive to interoception, thus may not feel tired. I also feel that there is a relationship between autism and disruptive sleep.

My son has always had issues with sleep ever since he was a baby. As a baby, I would have to stand up to rock him back to sleep. If I sat down to rock him, he would scream. I also used a baby bouncer but as soon as I stopped bouncing the chair, most times he would wake up.

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When he was eight months old, I had to go back to work. He struggled going to sleep and would wake up throughout the night. When he finally fell asleep, the moment my head hit the pillow my alarm would go off and I would have to get up to go to work. I remember one time being so tired that I tried to make myself a cup of coffee, I placed the coffee pot and cup in the fridge. Another time, I had to drive around with my son in my car on a Friday night trying to get him to fall asleep. However, as soon as the car had stopped, he would wake up and cry.

As a young child, he would wake up and switch all of the lights on around the house. He has always had a disturbed sleep pattern and would wake up instantly full of energy on little sleep. Even his paediatrician said that there are some children that naturally sleep less and that my child was one of them. At that point I was laughing and crying at the same time. His paediatrician also discussed with me maybe using Melatonin. At the time I thought that I would have been selfish giving him Melatonin as I had poor quality sleep and would have been doing it because I desperately needed sleep. I did not see it as actually improving his quality of sleep and it would be in the best interest for his health. In hindsight, I should have tried him out on it.  

I struggled with getting my son to sleep in his own room and own bed. When he did sleep in his own room, he would wake up and not see me there and would panic and run into my room. A social worker at the time suggested that this could be a combination of anxiety and also because his dad no longer lived in same house as us, a child may think that because their dad has moved out, he would wake up to me also not being there. It definitely has to be noted that anxiety has a huge impact on the quality of sleep. This is from both mine and my son’s experiences.

I debated about referring my son to a sleep clinic when he was younger to monitor his sleeping patterns. I actually purchased a night projector and a white noise box, which initially worked but only for a short period. I even purchased a weighted blanket, which I thought was great. However, in our case the problem was he kept on pulling it over his face, so I had to constantly go into his room to pull it down.

I have redecorated his room and reorganised it to make it more spacious. I even purchased blackout blinds. Blackout blinds are really handy, especially in the summer time when it is brighter outside at night-time.

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I know personally for my son he associates night time with it being dark outside so if it is light, he will refuse to go to bed.

My son has debated with me about why he has to go to bed before I do. In his mind we should have to go to bed at the same time. I had to use a social story to explain to him why.

An expensive purchase but a lifesaver for me was getting a memory foam mattress with individually air pocketing. I do not know if it is because it adjusts to his body shape but having the mattress has improved my son’s quality of sleep.

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Now he has no issue going off to sleep, however, wakes up a couple of times throughout the night. But it is not as bad as it used to be.

Having a visual bedtime routine, (an example shown on my Visual Support Page under The 8th Sense: Interoception) helps to maintain a structure which is predictable and easy to learn. Also, it is not a good idea to play the iPad close to bedtime as it gives off a bright light which suppresses melatonin.

Writing this blog has made me reminisce on the time prior to my son. I used to work in the hospitality industry working long unsociable hours. Because of this, I did not get much sleep. In a funny way, who would have thought that the lack of sleep then would put me into good practice for the future. (Sometimes you have to laugh otherwise you’d cry)

Can you relate to the issues discussed in this blog?

Have you used Melatonin?

Have you got any sleeping tips?

2 comments

  1. It’s possible that deciding not to use Melatonin was a good thing. Some Autistics have unusual reactions to different medicines and being Autistic they might not be able to explain it well or, as in many instances, aren’t believed when they do try to explain it because such reactions aren’t supposed to happen. (Sometimes it almost seems like a different biology.) For myself, both Melatonin and Valerian cause me to lose feeling in my arms. Not tingling numbness but rather absolutely no sensation whatsoever. Of course, I’m sensitive to most medicines and even the binders in vitamins give me the worst stomach aches.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you firstly for your comment. It is always good to get an insight from someone who has used Melatonin and to highlight a discussion about it. I use several strategies to help improve my son’s quality of sleep and have never had to use Melatonin. As a parent I reflect on how he really struggled with sleep as a young child and have doubts and feelings of guilt that I went against a doctor’s suggestion and decided not to give him Melatonin. I have read and personally heard many points both for and against the use of Melatonin. I am glad that you have shared your experience on using Melatonin and I encourage others to share their experience too so that it helps others understand more about Melatonin.

      Like

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