Here are four tips and additional reading you may find helpful in putting your child to bed.
Reduce your child’s exposure to bright light before bedtime, preferably for two hours.
Children are more sensitive than adults to bright light. This is a problem because the light from cell phones, computers, lamps, and so on reduces the production of the melatonin, the nighttime “hormone of darkness” that guides sleep onset and maintenance.
In addition, children on the spectrum already tend to produce less melatonin than their peers.
Safeguard your child’s sleep by paying attention to evening light, and following the five tips we give in Bedtime for Children.
Be consistent about when your child goes to sleep, and gets up.
Predictability will help your child feel more comfortable.
Keeping regular hours also helps the body stay in tune with its “inner clock” – or really, the many inner clocks throughout the organs of the body. Even on days when you can sleep late, don’t. The body benefits when the sleep schedule is the same every day, regardless of whether it is a weekday, weekend, or holiday.
Regular hours are especially important for children who have a disturbance of circadian rhythms, such as bipolar disorder, and the spectrum. They tend to be at a disadvantage already when it comes to regulating their cycle of waking and sleeping, or rest and activity.
However, you and your child can improve the situation if they get sunlight or artificial light as soon as they wake up. This resets their circadian rhythms, which vary from 24 hours. You, and your child, may also want to:
- keep dark curtains drawn at night so street lights, security lamps, and passing car light do not interfere with the production of melatonin
- sleep in a room that is comfortable, but cool (less than 75 degrees)
- follow the commonsense advice given to the general population (for example, don’t let your child drink sugary drinks, or go bungee jumping, right before bedtime).
Sometimes rewarding giving a child a reward for staying on track is helpful, too.
Allow enough time for a psychological transition to bedtime.
Children on the spectrum tend to have difficulty handling transitions, and the
transition from waking activities to sleep is a big one. Develop a predictable, one-hour routine to help your child quiet down, and decompress. Sometimes posting the evening schedule is helpful.
Be a friend to yourself.
The steward on the plane tells you that if the cabin pressure changes, oxygen masks will drop down. She follows that by saying, “Put your oxygen mask on first” because if you don’t have your mask on, you can’t help your child.
Putting children to bed can be stressful, and putting children on the spectrum to bed, no matter how much you love them, is often a challenge. Use your oxygen mask. And apart from using your mask so you can help your child, remember you deserve to be a friend to yourself.
Most children on the autism spectrum have trouble with sleep, possibly due to lower levels of melatonin. These levels appear to be linked to genetic mutations. Could more melatonin help?
How does exposure to light at night affects children? This page includes a video with the latest findings on preschoolers. There are also links to content on sleep across the lifespan, including Five Tips to Give Your Baby the Best Sleep in the World.
It turns out that it is not only how much light you get. When you, or your child, get that light affects your health, and mental health. Read about some of the latest research.
Why are children more vulnerable to light than adults? What biological changes in adolescents make teens more likely to have difficulty sleeping? When is protective eyewear needed to get a good night’s sleep?
How does melatonin affect sleep? What is melanopsin, and why is it a key part of the system of circadian rhythms? How do these elements fit together for children and adults? A clear explanation puts the pieces together.