Sleep disturbances affect at least half of all children with autism. Parents and siblings of sleep-deprived autistic children can recite horror stories of familial fatigue, stress, and anxiety surrounding their attempts to bring some sense of normalcy to bedtime. The potential reasons are varied and difficult to pinpoint, the reasons why falling asleep and staying asleep is so very difficult in kids with autism.
Some potential causes of sleep problems with autism.
Some potential villains in sleep deprivation among the pediatric population.
Malfunctions in the body’s biological clock, often referred to as the circadian rhythm Problems with production of and metabolism of the melatonin, the hormone involved in control of the sleep-wake cycle Side effects of medication Over-stimulation at bedtime Medical disorders, a whole big bunch of them, ranging from anxiety and restless-leg syndrome to epilepsy and stomach problems
Autistic children have difficulties with breathing
Breathing as much as any other cause, we learn.
Researchers have known for several years that children with autism suffer in untoward numbers from apnea, that formidable opponent to good sleep found so often in older adults, men in particular. So the incidence of apnea in autistic children came as something of a surprise.
With apnea, breathing stops for seconds at a time, over and over again throughout the night. Each stoppage triggers an unconscious micro-arousal as the poor child briefly gasps awake. These breathing disruptions can result from a physical blockage of the upper airway by soft tissues, such as the tonsils and adenoids, or from some blip in the brain.
The good news here: surgical removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids can lead to immediate, dramatic improvements in the sleep cycle.
REM and children with autism.
Even after the research involving apnea have come new findings, very interesting new findings that suggest children with autism may have far less rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. This reduction in REM sleep raises concerns about these children’s cognitive function during the day. Memory and learning depend, in significant part, on appropriate amounts of REM sleep. The dreams which occur most often during REM have much to say about the child’s emotional well-being, and any deprivation thereto will necessarily bring along any number of adverse daytime effects.
Autism and the inability to fall asleep, continued.
All the potential problems which trouble all children seem to exaggerate themselves, to accelerate the ill effects in young people confronting autism. Simple anxiety, for instance — worries about school or about friends — can amplify themselves in the waking nightmares of autistic kids. Any sort of neurobiological dysfunction can wreak bedtime havoc as well.
Polysomnography, a perfect starting place.
A laboratory procedure called polysomnography is the current preferred method of analyzing sleep in all its slumbering complexity. The technique records electrical symbols in the brain throughout the night, watching and listening as the child cycles through the different phases of sleep from evening’s beginning to morning’s end. Polysomnography detects any abnormalities in the architecture of sleep, the expected patterns of slumber throughout the night.
Please look for polysomnography in your home.
Few, if any, children with autism would be able to tolerate the regimen of this procedure, were it to be conducted in a sleep laboratory. Too many wires. To many unfamiliar people. In a strange environment. Too many tactile incomings. Too much sensory input all around.
A desensitization period, a timeframe ranging from a week to perhaps as long as two months, might be necessary before your child will become comfortable with the testing process.
Once more, the Hughes Brothers offer you heartfelt, deeply personal
Mike Hughes’ daughters, favorite nieces all around, work daily with children with autism. And we look forward to helping them, and you, find the sleep aids that will bring soonest, best rest to your entire household.
Thank you for your confidence in our work.