Good sleep is crucial for optimal health. Unfortunately, sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are 80% more prevalent than their peers, which can impact emotional regulation and cognitive function. Additionally, autistic people spend 10% less of their sleep cycle in REM. Overcoming these struggles and prioritizing healthy sleep patterns can nurture overall well-being.
In this blog, we will discuss:
- How does autism affect sleep?
- What are common sleep issues in autism?
- Why do people with autism need so much sleep?
- Do kids with autism require more sleep?
- Does melatonin help autism?
- How does caffeine affect autism?
How Does Autism Affect Sleep?
Autistic people often have a higher risk of sleeping problems. Because of specific mutated genes, they are more likely to have a dysregulated circadian rhythm–the physical, mental, and behavioral changes following a 24-hour schedule.
Poor sleep can also cause chronic medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
Alongside these conditions, the lack of good sleep hygiene can increase injury in adults and children alike.
What Are Common Sleep Issues In Autism?
While not all people with autism experience sleeping issues, those who have a disordered sleep-wake cycle can see effects on their overall health.
Common sleep issues in autism include:
- Sleep apnea or other disordered breathing
- Irregular sleep patterns such as delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) or fragmented sleep
- Restless legs syndrome or sleepwalking
While not every autistic person will experience these issues, it is common in children. With the help of a sleep professional and other behavior specialists, you can significantly improve sleep quality.
Why Do People With Autism Need So Much Sleep?
The amount of sleep needed for sufficient energy varies for each individual, but autistic people may have more difficulty maintaining quality sleep. This can disrupt their day-to-day routine and overall feeling of wellness. Because of this, a person with autism may need more sleep.
Do Kids With Autism Require More Sleep?
Developing autistic children often have more prevalent issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up. Because of this, they will require more sleep than their neurotypical peers. Parents of children with autism should establish a bedtime routine for better sleep management, which will improve their child’s sleep.
Routines for healthier sleep cycles include:
- Keep a sleep diary to track daily sleep.
- Establish a firm bedtime and relaxation routine.
- Take melatonin before bed- with the advice of your primary care provider.
- Eat a balanced diet, and limit caffeine after 4 pm.
- Make the bedroom more comfortable with black-out curtains, white noise machines, and removed distractions.
Poor sleep can increase struggles in sensory regulation, behavior management, mood control, and more.
Does Melatonin Help Autism?
Autistic people often have offset melatonin levels, called the “flat melatonin curve,” which delays melatonin production in the body. This causes autistic people to feel tired during abnormal periods of the day and not experience “sleepy” cues at night. Melatonin supplements can help signal your body to rest with small doses (1-3 milligrams)- as it will regulate the levels of sleep chemicals in the body.
How Does Caffeine Affect Autism?
While caffeine is typically used as a stimulant for neurotypical people, caffeine has a calming effect in people with autism. Positive effects of caffeine for people with autism include:
- Increased social interaction.
- Improved cognitive function.
- Reduced hyperactivity.
Limiting caffeine consumption is important because certain stimulants have been known to increase sensory issues or irritability. Additionally, caffeine consumption later in the day can negatively affect sleep hygiene. Continue to consult with a provider before introducing high levels of caffeine, and stop consumption if you experience adverse side effects.