The prevalence of sleep problems in children with autism is about 54%, so the link between insomnia and autism isn’t a new one. By comparison, about 30% of babies and preschoolers who are typically developing have sleep problems, and that percentage decreases as they approach school age. Squeaker falls within that 54%. He either takes at least an hour to fall asleep, wakes up in the wee hours of the morning (1, 2, or 3am) and stays up for hours, or both. He’ll have a couple nights a week where he exhibits normal sleep patterns, and then it’s back to the disordered sleep patterns.
So, I decided to do some research on insomnia and autism, and came across this presentation. I know I’m not the only one with these problems, so I’m sharing information.
Children who sleep well, not surprisingly, had fewer affective problems and better social interactions than those who sleep poorly. Something I learned in research methodology class as a Psych major, though, is that correlation does not equal causation. Therefore, it’s hard to say whether the poor sleep patterns cause poorer daytime functioning or are the result of the poor daytime functioning or if autism contributes to both the poor sleep patterns and worsened functioning during the day.
What I think is interesting is that sleep and autism share the neurotransmitters GABA, Serotonin, and Melatonin. The presentation I got this information from suggested that problems in these areas due to autism may be seen in impaired control of the sleep cycle.
They say other causes of insomnia in autism are the symptoms of the disorder (increased sensitivity to environment, need for predictability, anxiety), family influences (tired parents without the energy to form bedtime routines or guilt about teaching children to sleep on their own), and coexisting disorders (epilepsy, mental retardation, etc).
As parents of a child who doesn’t sleep well, I have to say…I’ve looked at all the different ways to promote healthy sleep patterns in Squeaker. We have a predictable bedtime routine. He goes to bed the same time every night, including weekends. He gets up the same time every morning (except for the weekends). He gets as much exercise as we can goad him into. He doesn’t use caffeine (never has). I’m pretty sure apnea isn’t the issue since his adenoids have been removed due to excessive ear infections. We put a nightlight in his room. We don’t even go into his room when he wakes up at night, so he isn’t getting anything out of being awake. When all those methods failed, we have tried pharmaceuticals. Most of them don’t help much. I mean, if they get him to sleep, he doesn’t stay asleep. We’ve tried melatonin. It seemed to work for a few days, then it didn’t. The only thing we haven’t tried is weighted blankets. I still need to do more research on them before we try that method.
So for now, we just do what we can do. Carry on. The good thing is, Squeaker isn’t a kid who gets up and destroys things. He stays in his room and in his bed. But since there is some apprehension on my part about him coming out of his room, he still has a child safety lock on his door so he can’t get out without us knowing and get in to anything. The only thing is that he’s so noisy when he wakes up. He’s in his room, squeaking and yelling and singing to himself. None of what he does is because he’s mad or upset. They’re all happy noises. But Big Guy is in the room across the hall from him. The last thing I need is for him to wake up the baby.