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Health Spotlight: Autism and sleep

Autism and sleep: Putting issues to bed

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — At least half of autistic children on the spectrum struggle with sleep patterns, with parents believing that number is actually closer to 80%.

Up to 16% of neurotypical children suffer from poor sleep, compared to 50% in kids with autism. The other is how these children process medications and hormones.

“Different genes can affect how we either synthesize or make melatonin in the body, or how we break it down,” said Beth Malow, director of the Sleep Division at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Anxiety, chronic insomnia, and middle of night awakenings are triggered for kids with no “off” switch.

“Anxiety versus over arousal can be really tricky, especially if your child has limited language and can’t tell you what they’re experiencing,” Malow said. “And the idea is that you just can’t turn your brain off.”

Rather than tackling problems at three in the morning, parents are advised to rewind.

“I even go backwards to what’s happening during the day,” Malow said. “Because what’s happening during the day is gonna feed into what happens at night.”

Before bed, set the stage with quiet and low light. Plus, if sleep apnea is the cause, CPAP masks are now much less claustrophobic.

“Even people with autism, who have sensory sensitivities, can tolerate it,” said Malow.

“And we all need our sleep!”

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.