What can I do to help my child go to sleep at night? How can I help my child sleep through the night?
These are two questions I’ve asked on numerous occasions and are two of the most common questions of parents with children on the autism spectrum. Sleep problems are reported to be as high as 80% in children with ASD. We know that sleep related disturbances are an important issue for children with ASD because they can increase and worsen repetitive and stereotypic behaviors, inattention and hyperactivity, and can interfere with learning. It’s also challenging for mom or dad to be up throughout the night and still have to go to work the next day.
Looking back, I remember too well the period when I slept outside Ryan’s bedroom on the floor because he was waking up numerous times during the night and walking through the house. Fortunately for me, that challenge eventually passed and today he sleeps through the night.
I recently read some new research looking at the role of in-bedroom video game usage and its potential in contributing to sleep disorders. A study of 141 boys between the ages of 8 – 18 looked at children’s video game usage. The researchers found that boys with autism played video games about twice as long as boys with typical development (2.1 vs 1.2 hours respectively).
In another study looking at media use and sleep among boys with ASD, boys with in-room access to video games (i.e. access to a computer or dedicated game system) spent less time sleeping per night than boys without an in-room system. Additionally, the amount of time spent playing video games per day was negatively associated with the number of hours sleeping per night. Since we know that children with ASD have more difficulty disengaging from screen based media, it could be that the media is contributing to bed time resistance and delayed sleep onset. It’s also been suggested that the brightly lit screen might disrupt melatonin production, which could affect sleep quality with children with ASD because they are already at risk for low melatonin concentrations.
So, what should we as parents do? I would suggest that we limit the amount of time that our children have to play video games during the evening. Take some data and look at sleep patterns based upon the amount of time your child has access to video games. Talk to your physician if you’re finding that your child is sleeping less and you cannot determine why.
There are a number of resources available in helping you establish positive sleep patterns for your child. Two I found especially helpful are: Establishing Positive Sleep Patterns For Children On The Autism Spectrum and Sleep from Autism Speaks.
If you have any special tips to share with our readers, I would love to hear them. Please share below.
On Thursday, I am going to discuss video game use and problematic behaviors in boys on the autism spectrum. Tune in then.