Contribution from freelance writer Lucy Wyndham
Every once in a while, the Leka Team is happy to welcome external contributors and share their food for thoughts. This post has been written by Lucy Wyndham whose husband is on the spectrum.
Despite sleep playing a pivotal role in the physical and mental wellbeing of children, it is estimated that between 44 and 83% of children on the spectrum experience frequent sleep problems. Poor-quality or disrupted sleep can affect a child with ASD tremendously, amplifying typical behaviors such as hyperactivity, aggression, and compulsions. It is for this reason that it is extremely important to help a child establish sound sleep practices that will enable him to wake up feeling well-rested and ready to face the day head-on. The following guidelines will make it easy to improve on the current sleep hygiene of your child.
Enforce a positive bedtime routine
An effective bedtime routine is generally short, expected and completely predictable. The purpose of such a routine is to help your child relax and prepare for bed without becoming overwhelmed and disruptive. A visual schedule indicating bedtime activities such as putting on pajamas and brushing teeth can be very helpful, especially in younger children who fare better with visual cues. It is very important to be encouraging and patient, giving praise every time a step in the routine is successfully completed. Steer clear of stimuli such as loud music, electronic screen, and bright lights shortly before bedtime, opting instead for a gentle nightlight such as the Leka to help your child drift off to sleep.
Make sure the environment is conducive to sleep
It is very difficult for anyone, and especially children on the spectrum, to sleep in a room filled with distractions such as light, noise and even uncomfortable temperatures. In order to get a child with ASD to sleep well, the sleeping environment has to be comfortable and conducive to sleep. A firm mattress and suitable bedding such as soft (or weighted) blankets & comfortable pillows can contribute a lot towards a comfortable environment, making a world of difference in a child’s ability to both fall and stay asleep. The same consideration given to the bedding should also be given to your child’s pajamas as they can make a huge difference in the level of comfort experienced in bed.
Establish the correct bedtime for your child
Although children between the ages of 6 and 13 require between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a night according to the National Sleep Foundation, it is important to assess your child’s needs independently as some children may need an extra hour or to a night. Once you have established how much sleep your son or daughter needs it is important to adjust your night-time routine accordingly. If you have found that your child needs 12 hours of sleep and needs to be at school by 8, you will have to put him to bed by 7pm. This will affect the time you serve dinner and engage in your bedtime routine.
It may take some time to establish good sleep hygiene for your child but once you do, you will realise that it was worth all the effort tenfold. A child that sleeps well is not only generally more alert and eager to learn but also tends to be a lot happier and healthier overall – to great delight of any parent.