Parents know very well the struggle with bed time. For parents of kids on the spectrum, the challenge can be all the more daunting, but all the more rewarding if done right.
Studies have shown that most autistic children have significant sleep problems. These problems typically come in the form of difficulty falling asleep and repeated awakenings in the middle of the night. These deficits often stem from sensory issues or chemical imbalances in the brain. Lack of sleep and disrupted sleep often result in increased inattentiveness, hyperactivity, problematic behavior, and irritability.
If you have experienced nighttime behavior problems, or simply notice bed time being a struggle for your child, try keeping a sleep diary. Write down how each night goes for your child and read through to pick up on any patterns on their sleep problems. Once you start trying different solutions, you can also use this to track the progress of the methods you implement.
If you notice any problems, a good place to start is addressing the environment your child sleeps in. Consider the amount of light leaking in from outside. If too much light is entering the room, try putting up curtains to make it as dark as possible in the room. Different levels of calm music or warm lighting can also be used to help create a calm environment. Also be mindful of any stimulating posters on the walls or toys close by on the shelves.
Establishing a quick, easily replicable bed time routine is also essential. It is important to make sure this routine can happen anywhere, even on vacation. This can include listening to gentle music, reading a story, or taking a bath. Avoid stimulating activities such as TV shows or video games. Try to coincide this with your own bed time routine, as this helps your child learn social cues from others that it is time for bed.
Exercise and physical activity during the day is a great way to regulate the body, burn off any hyper energy, and leave your child at the appropriate energy level for sleep at bed time. It is important to remember to leave ample time in between exercise and bed time; physical activity too close to bed time will result with leftover stimulation when it is time to wind down.
If solutions before bed time prove to be ineffective, chemical imbalances may need to be addressed. Supplements such as Anandanol can be introduced before bed time to aid with falling asleep and staying asleep. If this doesn’t help, it is at this point that consulting a doctor for medication as a last resort may be helpful.Establishing a sleep schedule, bed time routine, and strategies for improved sleep for your child will likely be an involved process. However, the effort you put in will pay off in further success for your child, not to mention, better sleep for you as well.
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