Sleep disorders and struggles with the onset of sleep are common for people on the spectrum. My son has struggled with getting to sleep since he was a baby. There are a lot of different things you can try to help your child with onset of sleep. Here are a few ideas that may help.
First of all, establish a bedtime as soon as possible. It’s ok to not have many rules for your kids, but bedtime is one that can benefit everyone. On those more difficult days, it’s nice to have a deadline for the end of the day. There’s just no way around it, parenting brings a lot of stressful days. When you hit a hard one, you can remind yourself “Just gotta make it to bedtime!”. If you can be consistent with a specific bedtime, that’s an amazing start.
Secondly, add in a routine that stays the same no matter who is putting your child to bed. For instance you could: head upstairs, into the bathroom to brush teeth and use the toilet. Then into the bedroom for pyjama time. 2-3 books, and lights out. If your child likes a dark room, try black out blinds. If they like white noise try a fan, or a white noise machine. Our son really thrives on rules and routine. It’s one of those autism stereotypes that he actually fits, so we use that to our advantage when we can. A process he can count on each day has made winding down to sleep easier.
There may be times when no matter how great your nighttime routine is, your child regresses and just isn’t getting the sleep they need. At this point you may want to try giving them melatonin. If you don’t know anything about melatonin, you can find more information here. A lot of children will not take a pill, so you can start by attempting to give them a mouth spray. Of course it’s not a one size fits all product, so if the mouth spray doesn’t work, consider trying these strips. Adding in melatonin during the teeth brushing portion of the bedtime routine is a natural fit as the transition from teeth brushing to the strip or the spray is relatively seamless.
If your child is resistant to the melatonin, my advice would be to just skip it all together. Getting someone worked up over something they don’t want to do is not going to put them into a calm and relaxing state before heading to bed. If it’s not working for you, ditch it!
Another suggestion would be to try getting an essential oils diffuser for the room and turning it on a few minutes before your child goes into their room for bedtime. Lavender blends can be really calming, but let your child smell a few different kinds and see if they have a positive reaction to any scent in particular. You never know what they may be drawn to! You can switch it up each night, or keep it the same every time. Some people also use essential oil rollers directly on the skin, but not everyone reacts the same way to natural remedies, so it’s something you’ll need to experiment with. You can find out more about essential oils here.
If you’re finding essential oils are working for you, there are a few more ways you can incorporate them into bedtime. On bath nights, use a good bath soak with calming scents. Sensory preferences vary from person to person, but some kids love bubble bath. Alternate between a diffuser and using linen spray on bedsheets.
In our home, we finish off the bath time routine with magnesium spray. I started using magnesium spray on my joints and it made a huge difference. Since my son stims by jumping and flapping his hands, I would guess his muscles are tight and exhausted by the end of each day. Magnesium is a mineral that is natural found in the body. It is well known for its relaxing properties, and can help play a role in providing relief from everyday minor aches and pains. If you’d like more information about magnesium spray and if it’s a good fit for you, here is a great resource.
There has been a lot of controversy about essential oils and other natural products being a cure for certain things, so I would just like to state that I am not looking for a cure for my child. The reason I use these products is to help him cope with his sleep issues, as I would with any of my other children if they were struggling to rest at night.
Skimming through? Here are the key takeaways from this post:
• onset of sleep is a common issue for autistic people
• here are some tips on how to help
• establish a bedtime, and stick to it
• follow the same routine nightly
• if you’re comfortable with it, try melatonin
• if you’re not, try essential oils
• magnesium spray is great for tense muscles
• to learn more about if magnesium may work for you, click here.
• none of these methods are a cure, they’re only meant to help someone cope with the struggle of onset of sleep