Up to 16% of neurotypical children suffer from poor sleep, compared to 50% in kids with autism. The other issue is how these children process medications and hormones.
“Different genes can affect how we either synthesize, make melatonin in the body or how we break it down,” said Beth Malow, MD, director of the sleep division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Anxiety, chronic insomnia and middle of night awakenings are triggered for kids with no “off switch.”
“Anxiety versus over-arousal can be really tricky, especially if your child has limited language and can’t tell you what they’re experiencing. And the idea is that you just can’t turn your brain off,” said Dr. Malow.
Rather than tackling problems at 3 a.m., parents are advised to rewind.
“I even go backwards to what’s happening during the day, because what’s happening during the day is gonna feed into what happens at night,” Dr. Malow added.
Before bed, set the stage with quiet and low light. Plus, if sleep apnea is the cause, CPAP masks are now much less claustrophobic.
“Even people with autism, who have sensory sensitivities, can tolerate it,” Dr. Malow said.