How Autism Can Impact Sleep

21.07.2021

Many people with Autism can face trouble sleeping and the issue doesn’t just extend to falling asleep; it can also be very challenging to stay asleep. 

A lack of sleep can impact those with autism, as it can pose challenges for those without. It may cause symptoms such as repetitive behaviors more severe, which can in turn impact sleep more extensively. 

Sleep Problems in Autistic Children

Typically, children with autism have insomnia. A study published in PubMed stated that autistic people take as long as 11 minutes longer than their neurotypical counterparts to fall asleep. 

And not only that, but many wake up frequently in the night. The same study found that a higher proportion also suffers from sleep apnoea, a condition that typically means the person may stop breathing in the night. 

Causes of Sleep Problems

While it is generally unknown why so many people with autism struggle to sleep, there are a couple of common explanations. 

The first of these is that many with autism also have other conditions, such as gastrointestinal (GI) problems or anxiety. Both of these conditions, be it with pain or mental capacity, are known to cause people to struggle to sleep.

In addition to this, the sensory sensitivity that many autistic people suffer with while awake can also cause problems with sleeping. This is because a person with sensory sensitivity to light or sound may be very sensitive to such impacts disrupting sleep. 

Finally, it is becoming more understood that people on the autism spectrum may also suffer with specific gene mutations that make it harder to sleep. 

These can be alterations in either the genes that control our sleep-wake cycle or in the genes associated with creating melatonin, an essential part of our ability to sleep.

Helping an Autistic Person to Sleep

For many, a lack of sleep not only affects the person involved but also impacts on their family and caregivers. 

So, it is vital to enact a plan to resolve these issues as effectively as possible. While there is no known cure for some of the issues that can cause an autistic person to struggle sleeping, there are actions their carers can take. 

Firstly, creating a sleep diary can offer much-needed clarity on the extent to which a person is actually able to sleep. This may not only help monitor the rest a person is able to achieve, but also the extent to which any remedies are helping. 

In addition to this, establishing a regular routine, and ensuring that the bedroom is a positive place to go to, can also help.