Ahh sleep, that beautifully tranquil part where you blissfully dream away and recuperate ready for another day. I’m currently writing this post at 5:30am, sat on the couch watching In The Night Garden, no we haven’t just got up I haven’t actually been to sleep! Archie woke up at at 12:08am, the Hubby & I spent over two hours trying to get him back to sleep taking it in turns to lay him back down with his blanket & dummy but he was having none of it. In the end I gave up & took him downstairs, welcome to our world of Toddler Sleeping Problems.
He’s never been a good sleeper, but as he’s gotten older he’s awake for longer periods & is much harder to settle back to sleep. We have tried so many things with him to try and get some sleep, and some things have actually helped a little. If we are woken five times a night then that’s a good night. My little sleep thief much prefers to wake around ten times plus have a couple of hours where he’s wide awake, usually between about 1am & 4am.
At the moment we’re keeping a sleep diary and are trying various techniques to see if something will help him with his sleep. Our Health Visitor has tried to offer some advice but it is very generalised and not specific to Autistic children. Controlled crying really is not an option for us, if you leave him to cry he gets so distressed that it will literally take hours to calm him down and try and get him back to sleep.
Some of the things we’re trying might help other people too so I thought I’d share them & hopefully you might have some advice in return. For us the key things are:
1. A VERY Consistent Bedtime Routine
We have always had a great bedtime routine but we’ve had to really step it up a notch & be so strict with it. We do exactly the same things at the same time every night between 6pm & 7pm. This is Archie’s wind down time so the toys are put away and it’s supper time, cuddles with a book & In The Night Garden. If there’s any changes to the routine then it has a major impact, even small things such as Grandparents popping round later in the evening means it can have an impact for days. We’ve had to speak to my hubby’s parents and politely ask them to only come for visits at the weekend.
2. Bath time
For many this is a key part of the bedtime routine but not for us, it just doesn’t help. We stopped bathing him before bed as he used to get distressed by water so rather than promoting calmness it had the opposite effect. He’s much better in the bath now and does enjoy it, but now he gets overexcited so obviously not the best before bed. Plus he screams when you wash his hair so we’d have no chance of getting him into bed!
3. New Bedding
Due to his issues around textures, we’ve also made a few changes to his bedding. We’ve bought brushed cotton sheets for his cot & a new, thicker duvet. I noticed that on the nights he slept better he had pulled his pillow on top of him which I didn’t see any significance in until I read that some Autistic children like weighted blankets. He won’t have the duvet on him when he gets into bed but as soon as he’s asleep I tuck him up and we have had some better nights since. I really didn’t think bedding could have such an impact but it really is something to consider.
Supper is so important for helping Archie sleep as he doesn’t eat very well during the day so he needs small meals often to make sure he doesn’t go hungry. I’ve also read online that banana’s can help aid sleep, they also contain tryptophan, which convert to serotonin and melatonin, the brain’s key calming hormones. A lot of children with Autism can have a deficiency in melatonin which can contribute to their sleep issues, so I’m hoping that this will help too.
5. Calm & Quiet Throughout the Night
When he does wake in the night we try to keep things as calm & quiet as possible. We don’t put on the light and instead use our phones as a little background light but I think we need to buy a little night light, I’m thinking maybe a projector light but I’m unsure whether that is likely to settle or stimulate him so any suggestions or recommendations would be fab. The key thing for waking through the night is to consistently lay him back down and walk away. He does cry or shout out but we just keep going back, giving him his dummy and walking away again. Normally he does nod back off but will then wake again between 10-30 mins later.
We’re really hopeful that we’ll find something that works for us and can settle Archie into a consistent sleep pattern before he starts pre-school, but he is only two so we’ve got time to keep trying and hopefully consistency will be the key.