Sleep disturbances common among children with autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex and puzzling neurological condition that affects a child’s social communication and behaviour. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 54 children has autism, and it is four times more likely to affect boys than girls. Apart from the classic symptoms, children with autism may also experience sleep disturbances. Sleep problems are prevalent among children with autism and are considered a common co-existing condition.

Children with autism experience sleep disturbances at a higher rate than typical children. Recent research has found that sleep disruptions occur in over 70% of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The reasons for disrupted sleep in children with autism vary, but there are some common sleep disturbances that prevail.

One of the most common sleep disturbances in children with autism is insomnia. Insomnia refers to the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Children with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with initiating and maintaining sleep, leading to irregular or poor quality sleep. Children with autism may find it hard to quiet their mind, leading to difficulties falling asleep, especially when sensory or routine changes occur. They may also wake up frequently during the night, or experience early morning awakenings.

Another sleep disturbance linked to autism is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing briefly stops during sleep. It is caused by the narrowing or closing of the upper airway, leading to disrupted sleep due to frequent awakenings. Children with autism are highly susceptible to sleep apnea because they tend to have high levels of anxiety and stress, which can impinge upon the normal functioning of breathing muscles.

Children with autism are also more prone to experiencing nightmares and night terrors. Nightmares and night terrors are different conditions. Nightmares happen during REM sleep, which is the phase of sleep where dreams occur, and they can be frightening and disruptive to children. On the other hand, night terrors occur during non-REM sleep and happen suddenly, causing children to experience intense fear and confusion. Both nightmares and night terrors can lead to sleep disturbances and cause children to awaken frequently during the night.

There are various ways parents can help children with autism overcome sleep disturbances. Firstly, establishing a regular sleep routine is crucial. Consistency in the bedtime routine helps children feel secure and prepare their minds and bodies for sleep. Secondly, reducing the amount of physical activity and screen time before sleep is also important in mitigating sensory overstimulation. Lastly, engaging in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation, can calm the mind and body and ease children into a better sleep.

In conclusion, sleep disturbances are common in children with autism, and it is essential to address them to improve the overall health and well-being of children with autism. By creating good sleep habits and regular sleep routines, parents can help their children sleep better and establish a healthy circadian rhythm. Being aware of potential sleep disturbances and seeking professional advice can also ensure that children with autism receive the necessary support and care to lead healthy lives.

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