Happy New Year!
We were away in Australia in December for a family holiday. We had the best vacation ever as a family and the girls were very happy to see their Aussie family and friends there again. Coming back, I had to get the girls back into their normal routine and readjust their sleeping patterns so that they could be ready for back to school. Even though for us, it was only a 3 hour time difference with Sydney, it still took a bit of time to get back to their normal sleep rhythm. Thank goodness for melatonin.
Sleep is so crucial to everyone’s physical and mental health. As autism parents, we learn to get used to interrupted or lack of sleep. And let’s face it, even ‘normal’ parents have to deal with lack of sleep. But let’s make sure that we do all we can to minimize those night awakenings and sleep issues that many of our children with autism face. I make sure my daughters get as much sleep as possible. And not to forget, us as parents too must make sure we get good quality sleep. If my child is not sleeping well, I don’t sleep well too.
For many years, Mei and Min Min had terrible sleep issues. So I know what it feels like to get through the day with chronic sleep deprivation. During those autism days, I always felt that I could deal with the challenges and stress better if only I had consistent, good quality sleep. And for years after, on the rare occasions that I managed to clock 7 or even 8 consecutive hours of sleep (it was rare to get even 5 hours sleep those days) I find that I would still wake up tired and unrefreshed. I call it ‘momsomnia’. You just can’t function well physically and mentally if you have experienced chronic sleep issues.
Sleep issues includes night awakenings, inability to fall asleep easily, not sleeping long enough or sleeping enough hours but still waking up unrefreshed and cranky.Chronic sleep deprivation affects your brain and behavior. It causes accidents, loss of cognitive function, depression, early ageing, impairs judgement and more.
With sleep issues in children with autism, check their underlying health conditions. I make sure Mei and Min Min, now 7 and 5.5 years old, get a minimum of 10 hours sleep each night. Between Mei, Min Min and my own insomnia, we have experienced many types of sleep issues. Treating our sleep issues have made a tremendous change in our quality of life. Even though we do AC chelation which requires 3-4 hourly doses at night, I find that by incorporating some of the better sleep techniques, the messed up sleep schedule doesn’t seem to mess up my days as much as it used to.
Some of the ways I treated the girls and my own sleep issues include;
Eliminate casein, gluten, artificial colourings, flavourings, sugars and processed foods. The foods we eat may be the cause of our sleep issues. Food allergies and intolerance can affect the way we sleep, think and focus. Read up on the many beneficial diets eg. GFCF, GAPS, BED, SCD, Feingold, low salicylates, Paleo etc. Eat a well-balanced, wholesome meal made of organic foods and incorporate nutrient-dense foods such as fermented foods and bone broths into your diet.
For myself, reducing or eliminating caffeine was crucial. I only allow myself 1 cup of coffee or tea a day, I switch to decaf when possible and never drink coffee or tea after 3pm. Otherwise I’ll be tossing and turning for hours unable to fall asleep. And you shouldn’t be drinking those caffeinated sodas either, they have no nutritional value, is loaded with artificial flavourings, full of sugar or artificial sweeteners which do more harm than good. Make water 90% of what you and your children drink.
Treating Gut Issues
Constipation, chronic diarrhoea, fecal impaction, reflux, bloating, indigestion and inflammation are some of the GI conditions that may be causing the night awakenings and abnormal sleep disorders. Consult with a pediatric GI, biomedical doctor, nutritionist or dietician with experince with autism. Consider this, if you’ve got a tummy ache or stomach cramps, you yourself are unable to sleep well. The same goes for your child.
Natural Sleep Remedies: Vitamins, Minerals, Melatonin & More
If you are depleted in certain nutrients, it can affect your sleep. Magnesium is calming and a muscle relaxer. Consider magnesium if you experience muscle cramping or twitching or clench your teeth. If you grind your teeth at night, consider calcium supplements. Some children sleep better after supplementing with Vitamin B6. Seratonin precursors such as GABA, 5HTP and melatonin can help with sleep dysregulation. You can also consider other natural supplements such as Valerian Root, Bach’s Rescue Remedy and Chamomile which helps with calming and stress relief.
For my girls, I have used very small amounts of melatonin and 5HTP at certain points of time. For myself, melatonin alone doesn’t seem to quite do the trick. So for me, I use combination sleep remedies. My favourites are Nature’s Plus Sleep-Assure or Natrol’s Sleep’nRestore. Both are natural drug-free remedies. They contain melatonin, valerian root and other natural ingredients and I wake up refreshed unlike with pharmaceutical sleeping pills. With melatonin, it is best for short-term use only. Melatonin helps with jet lag, mild temporary insomnia and night awakenings. However, if you have a chronic sleep issue, then melatonin can only help to a certain extent.
Consider homeopathic remedies for sleep issues. Connect with any local homeopath to help you or you can also try an over the counter homeopathic remedy such as Hyland’s Calms Forte Sleep Aid . You can also try Bach’s Rescue Sleep which is made of flower essences.
People with adrenal fatigue has problems managing their stress or sleeping well. Prolonged stress, illness or chronic infection affects your adrenal health. People with adrenal fatigue often need to resort to stimulants such as caffeine to get going in the morning and prop them up throughout the day. What are adrenal glands and why are they so important in autism treatment?
“The adrenals are your “life saving” organs because they control your body’s hormones and help you survive in stressful situations. They act as control organs for your “fight or flight” response and secrete many of our most important hormones including: pregnenolone, adrenaline, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.” ~ Body Ecology Diet
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are:
- Cravings for sugar
- Cravings for salt on food when you eat
- Feel dehydrated and thirsty and require plenty of water
- Difficulty falling asleep at night, sleep lightly or wake early or often
- Difficulty relaxing, nervous, anxious or hyperactive
- Often spacey, or foggy thinking, even memory loss
- Lack willpower to accomplish
- General exhaustion
- Hormone imbalances
- Low libido
- Weight gain, especially in abdomen and waist area
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. The adrenal glands mobilize your body’s responses to every kind of stress (whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological) through hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with the stress. Whether you have an emotional crisis such as the death of a loved one, a physical crisis such as major surgery, or any type of severe repeated or constant stress in your life, your adrenals have to respond to the stress and maintain homeostasis. If their response is inadequate, you are likely to experience some degree of adrenal fatigue. ~ www.adrenalfatigue.org
Adrenal gland health is important for managing our stress levels, which is usually sky high not only for the parent who is raising a child with autism, but also for your child too. I encourage you to read Autism & Adrenal Stress. I take Enzymatic Therapy’s Adrenergize daily to improve my energy and manage my stress levels by supporting the adrenals. Your diet can also contribute to adrenal stress. Reduce sugar, coffee and processed foods. Also incorporate more fermented foods and drinks to aid digestion. Consider reevaluating your adrenal function, not just for your child with autism, but also for yourself. For more information on adrenal fatigue, please read Autism, Anxiety & Adrenal Glands and AdrenalFatigue.org
Treat Yeast Overgrowth
If you have a child who wakes up at night and giggles or laugh inappropriately, it’s more often than not caused by candida. If you suspect yeast overgrowth, your doctor can run a simple urine or stool test to check for the presence of fungal. Don’t be discouraged if the test comes back negative, yeast can be hard to culture. My girls have tested negative to yeast however yeast tests are notorious for false negatives. I never rely solely on a test result, there are many symptoms of yeast. I myself had to go on several rounds of antifungals, which improved the quality of my sleep, emotional health and energy levels tremendously. Please read this fantastic guide to testing, symptoms and treatments here What Is Yeast Overgrowth by TACAnow.org
Some of the symptoms and behavioral signs of Yeast:
- Inappropriate laughter
- Sleep disturbances
- Unexplained intermittent crying episodes
- Belly aches
- Bed wetting
- Gas pains
- in the mouth, in the form of thrush
- on the skin such as diaper rash or eczema
- red ring around the anus
- rash or cracking between the toes or joints
Other methods to a good night’s sleep includes;
- treating bacterial infection – a comprehensive stool analysis can determine bacterial infections. Some infections such as strep can cause OCD behaviors. Clostridia can be very uncomfortable and can cause aggressive behaviour. Other bacterial overgrowth may cause stomach discomfort and a general feeling of being unwell.
- get rid of parasites – consider anti-parasitic treatment if your child is showing symptoms of parasites. Consider treating the entire family for worms. I do a parasite protocol for my children, myself and the entire family every 6 months. Please read Got Parasites
- Is nap time causing your child’s sleep issues? – If your child is unwilling to fall asleep at a sensible time, consider if he or she had too long a nap. Or perhaps they napped too late. If your child had a 3 hour nap and wakes up at 5pm, chances are he’ll only be able to fall asleep at 11pm, which is far too late for a young child. I took away the girls’ nap time when they were 3 years old, it was difficult but boy, did it improve our life.
- Manage your stress, anxiety & depression – Manage your stress levels by including destressing and relaxation techniques into your daily life. Consider exercising, meditation, yoga, massage and reducing your work load. Some supplements and remedies that helps with stress and anxiety include L-Theanine, Rescue Remedy, GABA and 5-HTP. Daily dose of sunshine (soak up all that good Vitamin D3!) and exercise also helps to regulate your serotonin levels. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and co-workers. I know autism parents are the busiest people in the world, but consider taking a break and reevaluate your physical and mental health. Your child’s future may very well depend on your state of health. Do seek the help of a biomedical doctor, naturopath, homeopath or holistic practitioner.
- Practice good sleeping habits – that means no vigorous or exciting activities before bed time, no computer, iPad, tv or games an hour before bed. A warm bath with Epsom Salts helps to relax your muscles, add a few drops of calming lavender oil into your bath water. Get into the routine of going to bed at a sensible time every day to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. I have a strict bedtime routine for the girls, they are in bed and lights out by 8pm without fail during school nights. A good night’s sleep means they are able to learn and pay attention at school.
- Massage – I give my daughters a massage before bedtime with extra virgin coconut oil. The soothing strokes and pressure really relaxes them. It is also a great bonding experience between mother and child, an intimate moment just the two of us. A massage also helps to destress them after a hectic day, and they usually fall asleep halfway through the massage. It doesn’t take long, 5 minutes is all it takes. For myself, I exchange massages with my husband. We take turns giving each other foot massages. Rubbing your spouse’s feet while watching tv is quick, simple and highly appreciated. It’s free, easy to do and if you’re lucky enough, your spouse will reciprocate and give you a massage that lasts for more than 2 minutes:-)
- Sleep friendly environment – consider allergen-free pillows and beddings. Turn off the WiFi at night and place beds at least 5 feet away from electrical power points to reduce EMF exposure. Consider whether you or your child prefer a cooler or warmer temperature. Install blackout curtains if you prefer complete darkness. Otherwise, use a small nightlight for children who are afraid of the dark. Keep a serene environment and reduce loud sounds at night. Fresh air is better than air-conditioning, otherwise place an air purifier in the bedroom. If you work from home or use the computer a lot, consider placing your home office elsewhere, not in your bedroom. Make your sleep environment as healthy, calm and serene as possible.
I hope you will introduce some of these techniques into your daily life and improve you and your child’s quality of sleep. Here’s to a good night’s sleep and waking up refreshed for the whole family. Sleep well, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!