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Autism and Sleep Issues

Sleep can be a major issue for both those with autism and those that love them.  It can become a vicious cycle, especially with children.  It works like this….  A child on the autism spectrum typically needs a greater level of care than other children.  When they do not sleep, their parents, grandparents or caregivers do not sleep, thus causing sleep deprivation in everyone involved.  It does not take long to figure out that this is cause for great concern.  However, many families have found relief.

Traditional sleep advice is behavioral in nature.  You have likely heard many of the tips, and they are all good.  Some of them include….  (quoted from University of Michigan Health System)

  • Make bedtime a special time. It should be a time for you to interact with your child in a way that is secure and loving, yet firm. At bedtime, spend some special time with your child. Be firm and go through a certain bedtime routine that your child is used to. At the end of that routine the lights go off and it is time to fall asleep.
  • Put some thought into finding your child’s ideal bedtime. In the evening, look for the time when your child really is starting to slow down and getting physically tired. That’s the time that they should be going to sleep, so get their bedtime routine done and get them into bed before that time. If you wait beyond that time, then your child tends to get a second wind. At that point they will become more difficult to handle, and will have a harder time falling asleep.
  • Keep to a regular daily routine—the same waking time, meal times, nap time and play times will help your baby to feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime. Babies and children like to know what to expect.
  • Use a simple, regular bedtime routine. It should not last too long and should take place primarily in the room where the child will sleep. It may include a few simple, quiet activities, such as a light snack, bath, cuddling, saying goodnight, and a story or lullaby. The kinds of activities in the routine will depend on the child’s age.
  • Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your baby get to sleep wherever you may be.
  • Some babies are soothed by the sound of a vaporizer or fan running. This “white noise” not only blocks out the distraction of other sounds, it also simulates the sounds babies hear in the womb. Small, portable white noise machines with a variety of different sounds are now available.
  • Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air.
  • Use light to your advantage. Keep lights dim in the evening as bedtime approaches. In the morning, get your child into bright light, and, if possible, take them outside. Light helps signal the brain into the right sleep-wake cycle.

These are all very good tips, though we know many families who have done all of these with little results.  We would also recommend looking into some alternative solutions as children on the autism spectrum seem to have biomedical issues contributing to sleep.  Some of these may include anemia, improper zinc levels, digestive issues that cause irritability, and other nutrient issues.  Some solutions that our families have found, in addition to testing for these deficiencies, include a couple supplements.  They include:

Calcium Magnesium close to bedtime.  Research has shown that Magnesium slows the heart rate, thus calming children.  This may also help a child, who is either physically or mentally hyper, during the day.

Melatonin helps many children fall asleep faster.  Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain; however, many of our children (and adults) need an extra boost.  1 to 3 mg is a listed safe dose in children.  Please consult with your neurologist, pediatrician or other medical professional in determining dosage.  Melatonin can often be found in a flavored, chewable at various health food stores.  (We have found that, in some children with aspergers, melatonin has been reported to cause nightmares.)

Gentle Sleep Complex is quickly becoming a favorite among many of the families we work with.  Many report that while melatonin gets their child to sleep, they still wake in the middle of the night.  Gentle Sleep Complex seems to help many of these children (and adults) stay asleep.

If you would like more information on dealing with sleep issues, safe and cost effective biomedical testing or autism consultations, please contact us at

Becky Cash is a Nutrition and Autism Consultant; as well as, the mother of three children at varying points on the autism spectrum.

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