Sleep Difficulties and Autism: What Parents Need to Know

Compared to children without autism, children affected by autism have a substantially higher risk of suffering from sleep difficulties. This can lead to problems for the whole family, as a child who can’t get to bed or awakens frequently at night is apt to awaken the rest of the family as well. Since sleep is so crucial for health and quality of life, it’s important that parents speak with the behavior analyst about any sleep difficulties their child has been experiencing. 

Types of Sleep Difficulties 

Insomnia is common among individuals with autism. This means it takes them longer to fall asleep, and they are more likely to wake up during the night. It’s also possible that some children with autism have sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing ceases and restarts in a cyclical fashion throughout the night. Furthermore, children with autism tend to spend less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is essential for memory retention and learning. Individuals who get less REM sleep experience fewer of the restorative benefits of sleep. 

Causes of Sleep Difficulties 

There are several reasons why people with autism tend to have more problems sleeping. Often, it’s because of conditions that frequently co-exist with autism. For example, children may also be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders, both of which can interfere with proper sleep. These kids are also more likely to have gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation that causes cramps. This can understandably make relaxation and sleep more elusive. 

Consequences of Insufficient Sleep 

Insufficient, poor-quality sleep isn’t healthy for anyone. But for children with autism, it can be particularly disadvantageous. There is evidence to suggest that sleep-deprived children may have more severe symptoms of autism, including severe repetitive behaviors and poor social skills. And of course, they’ll also have more difficulty paying attention in class. 

Children affected by autism in the Plano area can find the help and support they need at The Behavior Exchange. Our behavior analysts focus on empowering children, parents, and siblings to improve quality of life for the whole family! You can get in touch today at (888) 716-8084.  

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