It is 3am. My daughter is awake. How do I know this? Well, she gathered her toys and wandered into the hallway to play with them. Now I am awake. Through experience I have learned that time is of the essence – if I can get her back to bed quickly, then the odds of her falling back to sleep improve enormously. If that doesn’t happen, she will become more and more awake until a threshold is breached and she is fully awake.
My daughter has always had an issue with sleep, or lack thereof. As a toddler, her sleep was very broken and as a kindergartner she would often be awake from 2-4am. Does this sleep deficit impact her behaviours? I am guessing that yes, it does, as lack of sleep certainly impacts me. It isn’t a surprise that lack of sleep increases her repetitive behaviours amongst other things and thus adds to the challenges she has to face in addition to her autism. Let’s face it, we all need the restorative powers of sleep.
How common is lack of sleep in the autistic community? There was a study published 2 years ago that suggests that nearly 80 percent of autistic children aged between 2 and 5 years have disrupted sleep. Autistic children are twice as likely to have sleep issues as typical children. I suspect this continues on to adulthood.
An analysis based on a review of existing papers on autism indicated that there were only 9 clinical trials on autism and sleep compared to more than 400 clinical trials of treatments for core autism features. There really is a lot we don’t understand and more research is needed.
So how do we level the playing field? We can provide bedtime routine, increase exercise, manage diet, lessen sensory intrusion (noise, light), but recognise what might work for one may not work for another. Technology can help monitor sleep activity as well as identify more optimal sensory conditions for sleep. There is much to learn and a pressing need for Mr. Sandman to visit more often.