Sleep issues are a common problem in children with ASD. Lack of sleep, late bedtimes, difficulty falling asleep, night terrors, recurrent night awakenings, laughing or talking when waking up at night, light sleeper, broken sleep, insufficient sleep hours according to age-appropriate levels, prolonged daytime napping especially for children older than 4 years old perhaps and other common sleep issues. This affects the child’s development and behavior. Sleep issues also affect siblings who share a room. Subsequently, parents are also affected by the continuous nights of broken sleep. Broken or lack of sleep in adults can lead to depression, irritability, stress, affects our ability to cope and think, it affects our work, home and life in general.
Maya had sleep issues from the day she was born. A newborn usually sleeps 20 to 22 hours a day, Maya was awake for 12 hours a day for the first 3 weeks of her life. During the day she would fall asleep for 20 minutes than wake up howling and screaming. An hour later she would sleep for another 15 mintues and so on all day long. She would wake up every hour at night to be fed until she was 2 months old, it improved slightly as she grew older. We would take 1 hour just to get her to sleep, by rocking and cradling non-stop. She managed to go to sleep by herself and sleep through the night when she was 1 years old, this lasted for 12 months. A whole year of uninterrupted sleep for Paul and I, however during the day we still had to deal with her increasingly difficult behavior.
However, the night terrors and broken sleep started when she was 2 years old. She would alternate between inconsolable crying and screaming one night, and the next night she would wake up at 2am talking and singing to herself in the dark till 5am. We tried many techniques to get her back to sleep such as giving her more milk, changing nappy, rocking and cuddling, then not giving her milk in case it reinforced her sleep awakenings etc but nothing worked. This pattern continued pretty much every night for the next 8 months. At this time, Maya was 2y8m – she was diagnosed with mild to moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder.
We immediately put her on the gluten-free and casein-free diet. Incidentally her sleep improved, she would sleep 12 hours straight. Though the night time talking and singing would recur at times. Only when we started treating her gut issues especially yeast treatments that she now sleeps well through the night. We also found out that the girls would wake up if the room was too hot or too cold. We also refined her diet further by eliminating IgG reactive foods including soy and eggs, reducing sugar, artificial flavorings including MSG and colorings. We reduced allergens and dust accumulating things in their bedroom, ripped up the filthy wall to wall carpeting, boarded up the old centralized air conditioning duct which was moldy and the thermostat control was broken, installed an air purifier and a new air conditioner. We used melatonin especially in the first few months of early biomed, it helped but only to a certain extent.
In biomedical circles, sleep issues in Autism are commonly related to diet and gut disorders. Treating sleep issues include the GFCF diet, reducing food sensitivities, probiotics, anti-fungal, magnesium, digestive enzymes, melatonin, treating any gut issues including inflammation, constipation and reflux. Constipation, allergens, yeast overgrowth, food intolerance and illness are common culprits. It would help to reduce stimulating activities such as boisterous play and watching tv just before bedtimes. Not eating too close to bedtimes may also help as well as more physical exercise during the day.
Melatonin will help regulate our sleep cycle, however this is only a temporary solution. It will only help to a certain extent, it is not a substitute for healing the underlying medical reasons for sleep issues such as GI disorders. All the melatonin in the world will not help a child to sleep if the child is experiencing stomach discomfort, tummy pains, yeast overgrowth or allergic reactions.
Yasmin slept well throughout until her bout with Rotavirus. Since then, her night awakenings have been constant. Since the girls now share a bedroom, this is affecting her sister’s sleep too. Her sleep has improved considerably since refining her diet together with gut treatments. Most importantly, we dealt with her recurrent bacterial infections as this affected her sleep and other aspects of her behavior. She has slept well for the past couple of weeks uninterrupted, but last night she was up from 2am-5am talking and singing. Looking back, we realized that yesterday we took her out for lunch but not Maya and perhaps the food was prepared with MSG or something that affected her. Usually the girls only eat home-cooked food. Hopefully she will be ok tonight.
In the past 1 year, both our girls have had several night awakenings, but we could always trace it back to either eating too much sugar, yeast overgrowth, constipation, bacterial infections, infractions in her diet or due to illness such as cold, flu and fever.