According to Autism Speaks, an autism spectrum disorder is a neurological problem “characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences”.
No mention of sleep problems. Why?
An autism spectrum disorder has a lot of seemingly inexplicable symptoms and lack of verifiable causes of autism. Therefore, sleep disorders don’t often get top billing when defining this neurological condition.
Nonetheless, sleep problems are a very real and disturbing part of autism. They may be the key to lowering the severity of the other autistic-related symptoms.
Donald Triplett was born in 1933. It didn’t take his parents, Beamon and Mary, long to realize there was something different about their son.
Donald rarely reacted to his mother’s smile or to her voice. He was able to speak but didn't seem to understand how to communicate, often repeating random words and phrases. For example, his parents often heard him mutter the word, “chrysanthemum” for no apparent reason. Donald was also very fond of making up his own phrases and words.
Soon enough, the difference between Donald and other children his age was becoming more apparent to everyone else around him. He had different interests than his peers. His phenomenal memory allowed Donald to do stand out in the crowd.
At age two and a half, Donald was able to sing back Christmas carols word by word, in perfect pitch, after only hearing them once. He had a rare affinity for numbers and an uncanny ability for memorization.
Parents of autistic children will recognize Donald’s behavior all too well, as it’s representative for an autistic spectrum disorder:
Autism is a bizarre and wild ride, often played out in dramatic episodes and strange twists. The sleepless nights and nighttime trauma seem to come up with the territory. Insomnia is a real symptom of autism and needs to be recognized as such.
No child is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a sleepless night, but for autistic children, sleep deprivation can be especially critical.
According to a recent scientific study, autistic children who slept less showed lower intelligence scores and more severe symptoms than participants who got adequate amounts of rest. This is especially concerning because autistic children are 2 to 3 times more likely than their fellow peers to suffer from insomnia. In other words, the poorer the sleep, the worse their symptoms can get. And the worse the symptoms, the poorer the sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
One of the largest and most revelatory studies on sleep problems in autism was conducted on 2,700 autistic children from the Simons Simplex Collection, a core project, and resource of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). The aim of their study was to accurately identify the importance of sleep for healthy brain development.
The results have shown that autistic children who slept less showed more problems with social interactions, especially in terms of peer-to-peer communication (social skills). The sleep-deprived participants were also more likely to exhibit repetitive behavior with no apparent cause. In a nutshell, the children who slept less showed more evidence of attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, and challenging behavior.
According to Australian psychiatrist, Amanda Richdale the danger of sleep problems for autistic children is real. “Children with autism who have compromised sleep are at greater risk for poor daytime behavior. Poor sleep can increase the severity of autism symptoms, such as repetitive behaviors, excitability, and trouble with social interactions,” all of which makes these children more resistant than usual in their day-to-day activities. The children are not the only ones who suffer the consequences.
Families of autistic children testify to the bedtime horror stories and the massive challenge of getting their children to peacefully go to sleep. One parent reported a two-hour nightly ordeal of trying to get her 5-year-old settled down, complete with 6 to 8 tuck-ins before finally getting the child settled down and asleep somewhere between 10:30 and midnight. Other parents account stories of their children repeatedly hitting themselves over the head while waiting for them to relax and surrender to sleep. Ruth O’Hara, associate professor of behavioral science and psychiatry at Stanford University observes that “it can be very disrupting for the whole family”.
The Stanford University study it’s considered a groundbreaking study in its field. It was the first scientific study to use polysomnography to investigate sleep problems in autism.
Polysomnography is a laboratory procedure that examines the brain’s electrical impulses as the subject sleeps, using electrodes stuck to the subject’s neck, chest, and legs. While the participant is at rest, these electrodes record the brain’s electrical responses to reveal sleep abnormalities. The study has, so far, been conducted on 80 participants with ages from 3-2 years old.
The results indicate autistic children’s sleep problems weren’t related so much to sleep quantity as much as its quality. A comparison between the autistic and non-autistic group of participants showed the autistic group took 160 minutes to enter REM sleep and spent only 15.5% of their sleep in REM stage. In contrast, the control group took 100 minutes to achieve the REM sleep stage and spent 25% of its sleep time in this phase.
Scientists believe these inconsistencies may also be explained by the disruption of participants’ circadian rhythm and lower production of melatonin.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour biological clock involved in controlling the sleep-wake cycle. A normal circadian rhythm regulates the optimal release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for signaling the body that it’s time to sleep.
There are scientists who hypothesize that autism causes a malfunction in the circadian rhythm that impedes the body’s production of melatonin. This causes interruptions in sleep which increase the severity of autistic symptoms. However, researchers point out that “correlation doesn't equal causation”.
In other words, researchers are not yet sure whether the lack of sleep is causing the increase in symptoms or if the increase of symptoms is generating the lack of sleep.
Genetics is another possible culprit in this vicious sleep cycle problem. Insomnia and autism involve some of the same genes. Genes affect hormones. Melatonin is a hormone. Therefore, genetic variations could be driving a higher rate of sleep problems in autism.
The Stanford Study is a promising sleep study with potential in adding a valuable piece to the autism puzzle.
While there is no known cure for autism, there are several ways to alleviate insomnia that comes with it.
For the time being, scientists aren’t sure if autism-related insomnia can be handled in the same way non-autistic insomnia can. Doctors suggest some of the same remedies, such as:
You can also feel calmer and more focused with Muse’s peaceful sounds.
As the research on autism grows, so does the amount of evidence that the blue light emitted by devices and LED lamps can disrupt sleep patterns and melatonin production.
A high number of studies show there’s a spectrum of wavelengths in our brains that negatively impact the body’s circadian rhythm. And blue light is the biggest culprit.
In fact, it has been proven that blue light causes the suppression of melatonin production more than any other type of light.
At Swanwick Sleep, we understand that completely eliminating blue light is simply not an option in today’s fast-paced generation. But blocking blue light definitely is.
If melatonin production makes the difference in whether or not an autistic child gets a good night’s sleep, we, at Swanwick Sleep want to do our part. The orange lenses in the Swannies Blue Light Blocking glasses block out blue light completely to keep the body’s circadian rhythms steady and the melatonin peaking when your child needs it the most, to keep him calm at night, and more alert during the day. That’s why we invite you to take the Swannies Challenge.
You might also be interested in: How Swannies Banished M.S. Sufferer's Sleep Blues
We know our little ones are just as (if not more) likely to enjoy hours of uninterrupted screen-time right before going to sleep.
We’re also aware their eyes are even more sensitive than adults’ eyes when it comes to blue light exposure. Our Swannies blue light glasses for kids line is dedicated to their exact needs, tastes, and sizes.
Science may not fully understand the relationship between sleep problems and autism yet, but if there’s one we know for sure is that our Swannies work in blocking blue light. That’s why we want to do everything in our power to help autistic children get more sleep with Swannies for Kids. Here’s how…
We’re giving parents with autistic children a chance to try out a pair of Swannies for 60-days! If your child has tried them out for 60 days with no results, we guarantee to take them back. Risk-free opportunity!
We believe parents of autistic children don’t need extra financial burdens, so how about the Swannies Challenge as a risk-free opportunity to manage your child’s sleep problems? https://amzn.to/2HA0uaP
If your Swannies for Kids don’t improve your child’s insomnia, you’ll have 60 days to return them for a full refund. We’re extending our regular 30-day refund policy with an additional 30 days to give parents with autistic children plenty of time to decide if Swannies are the best solutions for their child’s sleep problems. Happy child, happy family!
The good news is - there’s hope.
Psychiatrists are still exploring the causes and symptoms of autism, trying to find the answers that can help them find the cure. The Simons Simplex group’s research was able to confirm that some autistic children with delayed sleep show mutations that lower their levels of melatonin. This small discovery helps open the door for further exploration into the relationship between sleep problems and melatonin. However, with every accurate scientific testing, it takes a while to complete.
While we wait for answers, doctors recommend a combination treatment, including:
Catie Blatnick, the mother of a 12-year-old autistic child, has used melatonin supplements as part of her son’s insomnia treatment. “We started out with 3 mg. And about a year or so ago, it had to be increased to 5 mg.” She is happy to report that her son now sleeps nine hours (from 10 pm to 7 am) daily.
You might also be interested in: 6 Sleep-inducing Drinks You Can Easily Make Yourself
If a melatonin supplement could change an autistic child’s life, we’d like to see how Swannies for Kids could help change yours.
This is for all of you, parents with autistic children:
We know that finding the right solutions for your children is a journey in itself. The ultimate cure for autism may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. In most cases, it takes a combination of trial-and-error solutions in order to find that one thing that will lead to your solution.
At Swanwick Sleep, we want to be part of your solution and take part in your journey. Try out our Swannies for Kids for 60 days. If you see you notice an improvement in your child’s sleep problems we’d love to hear about it! We’ll be the first ones to cheer along with you! If you can’t see any result, we’d be happy to fully refund you and take the Swannies back.
Let’s put an end to sleep problems in autism once and for all! If Swannies can do that for your child, it will be worth the world to us.
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