Thursday, 3 February 2011

Autism & Sleep

Beautiful & Strange

Just when you think you're getting your life back together something always happens to knock you off your perch- or so my Scottish granny never tired of saying...

When life is stressful, there's nothing worse than broken sleep. As soon as Lyla started school after the Xmas holidays, she stopped sleeping at night.

Just like that.

From sleeping through (with medical help), she suddenly stopped sleeping.

And I've started turning into a zombie.

Lyla has always had sleeping problems and two years ago she was diagnosed with Melatonin-deficiency.

Melatonin is the sleep-hormone which causes people to feel drowsy in the evening and fall asleep.

Melatonin-deficiency is very common amongst autistic, ADHD and also blind kids. The theory is that melatonin production is light-dependent. This explains why blind children don't make it. For children with certain types of autism or ADD/ ADHD, it appears that the brain doesn't process the light properly and so either doesn't make any Melatonin or doesn't make enough.

Melatonin supplementation, under medical supervision, can be highly successful, (indeed miraculous!)  and induces normal sleeping patterns.

This all sounded a bit barking to me when it was first diagnosed, but it's another instance of just how pervasive autism is- it really does affect every area of a person's functioning.

So, that's the science bit.

However, the drawback with the preparation that Lyla takes is that is wears off after three hours. So, she's started to wake up just as we're going to bed and running around the house, shouting, wanting to play and waking everyone up.

Having a hyperactive child shake you out of a deep sleep, when you're already exhausted brought back unwelcome memories of endless sleepless nights with newborn twins.

For the first few nights, we survived on adrenalin, but after a week, utterly shattered, we realised that this wasn't a one-off: we had to take action.

Lyla suffers from quite severe Sensory Processing Disorder and unless she performs vigourous exercise every day, she is restless, anxious and hyperactive.

Until now, we've scheduled this into our day, but since she broke her elbow in November, she's not been allowed to exercise until l the screws that were put in her elbow have healed up.

Now Lyla can keep going on no sleep whatsoever, but Mya can't and neither can we. So, we took the decision to resume Lyla's exercise programme.

I'm pleased to say that after  two hour-long running sessions, Lyla has started sleeping through again and I'm looking forward to life returning to (our version of!) normal.


  1. Our son hardly sleeps either. Fortunately now though he is at the age where he goes to bed and stays in his room and reads until goodness knows when, but I know he is awake most of the night, but we've come to the conclusion as long as it doesn't affect us anymore that is how we will leave it. Mind you he is 14 now, and we have had many years of sleep problems in the past. I know this doesn't help, but as I am sure you know that as a mother of a child with autism, you are not alone. Glad the exercise programme works.

  2. BB's sleep is still disturbed but mostly he stays in his room and talks or sings to himself - disconcerting in the middle of the night, but a sign that he's happy and I can go straight back to sleep. Hope things work out for you. Lack of sleep is just awful.

  3. Thank you for the information on melatonin. I didn't know that. Amy's been a good sleeper since she was about five, before that we did have problems when she would often wake in the night and not settle for hours. But I have to admit that we've been lucky compared to a lot of parents with asd kids.

    My latest post talks about our "normal" life with autism. People don't realise that to us, this lifestyle is quite normal.

    Take care and enjoy your sleep!
    CJ xx

  4. My aspie boy sleeps pretty well...just insists on getting up at 6am every morning! It's my dd with cerebral palsy that is the problem. Sometimes she's fine, but any number of things can disturb her sleep....and mine. Saying that, things are a lot better now than even 5 years ago when I was still getting up to all 3 most nights, glad things are better for you now x

  5. so glad things are better sleep - wise
    its one of the most fundamental things - sleep and rest
    My son started to talk after a long - no school no therapy vacation and starting Melatonin
    he still has some problems
    But they are nowhere near what they used to be

  6. I had no idea. How does it work with the running, do you have to run with her? Please excuse my question, but as I said, I have ABSOLUTELY no idea! xx

  7. Hi

    Have you tried the slow release melatonin - this helps my daughter with neurological disorder sleep and stay asleep for longer.

  8. So glad you have found a solution that is helping lyla sleep now.

    Nothing worse than being sleep deprived. How are you Rachel? Hope things are picking up for you, did you manage to sort out a course?

    Take care xxx

  9. hi hon, your memoirs are going to be something else. What stories you have to tell!!

    Am so glad that sleep has resumed to normal and that hopefully two hour running sessions will keep everyone fit into the bargain :0


  10. I'm an Aspie up commenting at that'll show you how well my sleep is. LOL

    Both my kids, also Aspies, take melatonin. My son will sleep through as long as it's dark daughter...well it seems to depend on which way the wind is blowing. :-)

    Glad it's working! Hope you get some sleep!

  11. Hello All- I read all your comments as they came in but as usual life takes over and now I'm sitting here at 3.30 am writing replies- maybe I need Melatonin?!!

    Really interesting to hear how you deal with it- I love the idea of @Serenata's boy in his room!

    It occured to me that a lot of this is dus to sensory integration disorder- I've always put off writing a post about this as it's a huge topic...I'll put my thinking cap on...

  12. I am a high functioning autistic and I can recall sleep problems when I was a few years old and I still have have a hard time falling asleep. I'm taking 0.5 mg melatonin to see if it works. I take the melatonin spray that Dr. Mercola sells. Most melatonin supplements have too much per tablet and taking more than you need may not increase effectiveness.

    Studies have shown that autistic people lack melatonin synthesis because of a defective gene which reduces ASMT activity. This however does not guarantee autism for the person. They may have to work harder at maintaining their health.

    I believe my sleep problems are inherited as my mom and relatives on her side have them too.


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