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Understanding Autism, OCD and ADHD - Advice for Parents & Carers

Strategies To Support Healthy Sleep Routines

10 April 2023

Discover the benefits of a good night's sleep for children with ADHD and Autism. This article highlights how quality sleep can positively impact the well-being of our neurodivergent children. This article has been written by our Occupational Therapist, Anna Barnett.

The Importance Of A Good Night's Sleep

Sleep supports both physical and mental wellbeing. People are more able to take part in their day-to-day activities successfully when they are better rested. Following a good night’s sleep, we are more alert and are better able to concentrate and learn, we also experience less anxiety and present with better emotional regulation.

Our Night Reflects Our Day

Our daytime routines and habits all influence our sleeping habits and can affect the quality of our sleep. It is important to:

1. Get outdoors: our bodies need exposure to sunlight in order to “set our body clock” by helping to create melatonin.

2. Move our bodies: physical activity helps us to manage stress and improves the quality of our sleep.

3. Eat a healthy diet: eating healthily also promotes sleep quality by negating digestive issues.

4. Avoid daytime napping: long daytime naps can negatively affect sleeping habits and generally long naps should be avoided, especially if they are up to 4 hours prior to bedtime.

The Sleep Environment

The sleep environment can have a big influence on falling asleep and staying asleep. The following considerations should be made

  • Lighting. Use room darkening shades/blinds over bright windows, use a night light with a warm glow.
  • Reduce visual clutter. Organise belongings, or store them in another room. Decorate with soft, muted colours.
  • Think sensory. Use calming scents such as lavender during bath time, turn down the lights/close the curtains in the room, try playing soft, rhythmic music or white noise and use preferred textures for bedding/nightwear.
  • Temperature. Try to keep room temperature to a comfortable level (optimum around 18 degrees)

Evening Routines

Introducing a ‘wind down’ period of relaxing activities will help the transition to sleep.

  • Be consistent. Keep the order and timing the same each night; avoid extending the routine. Try to stick to this as much as possible, avoiding too big a change at weekends.
  • Avoid screen time. At least one hour before bed, stop using blue light emitting devices such as: tablets, mobile phones, computers, and televisions. These can keep people awake for longer.
  • Avoid drink/food that has caffeine or sugar. Both caffeine and sugar can negatively impact sleep. A calming drink and/or snack is more beneficial in the evening, such as herbal tea and a piece of toast.
  • Use calming activities. What does the child/young person find calming? Activities such as colouring, drawing, sewing, crochet are often cited as calming activities. Additionally, slow and gentle proprioceptive activities (resistive muscle work) can have a calming effect on the nervous system and be beneficial as part of evening routines. Some ideas: Firm cuddles with parents/carers/teddy, tightly wrapping arms around themselves and crossing legs, superman pose, wall push or wall sit, hold plank, curl up into a ball.

Increasing Night Time Independence

If a young person wakes in the night, it can be helpful for them to use familiar positive associations to help them to fall back to sleep without a parent or carer’s support. Examples include, a favourite blanket, a toy or even their preferred calming music

Example Routine

  1. Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bed
  2. Engage in an activity to help calm, e.g. reading, drawing/colouring, cuddles
  3. Evening drink and snack
  4. Bath/wash, teeth, toilet
  5. Get into bed (listen to music, story)
  6. Turn the lights off

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