Image credit: Sleeping toddler. Bliss
Who hasn’t heard the advice for better sleep?
You know, get a bedtime routine, keep the temperature cool, no electronics in the room, low lights, calming colours, don’t drink alcohol…
Yet according to The Sleep Council, 4 out of 5 people still complain they don’t sleep well!
So this week I was fascinated to talk to a friend with two gorgeous sons who happen to have autism about her mission to help them sleep better. I think what she told me could be a lifeline for anyone in similar circumstance, but honestly, also for many of us who pace the floor at night.
These are the three main tips she passed on (Thanks, Jen!)
Create a calm, ordered environment.
Jen’s boys feel happiest when things are in order.
I’ve written before about allocating different areas of the bedroom for different activitites (read our previous blog) but for children on the spectrum that goes double and treble.
So Jen puts more than usual effort into defining spaces.
The children’s beds incorporate a big bed tent. Reading, writing and play happen at the sturdy desk or on the fluffy rug. And they keep scrupulously on top of clutter with underbed drawers and clearly-labelled stackable storage boxes plus swoop bags for easily gathering up and hiding loose junk.
Image credit: Swoop bags
Provide a safe place to retreat.
It’s still not generally understood that autistic people – adults as well as children – can feel overwhelmed by too much sensory input.
A place where much of the visual and aural noise of daily life can be shut out can be vital. Jen’s kids have bed tents where they can curl up whenever life gets too much.
Image credit: Indoor tent
You might want to improvise one yourself, especially as patterns or lots of colour can be disturbing for autistic people. A little teepee, or just pillows or cushions covered by a sheet or blanket can sometimes be the best refuge when distress threatens.
Keep lights natural and clear.
Lighting can be key in keeping over-stimulation to a minimum.
Tiles or reflective floor surfaces can be glaring, and fluorescent light harsh and disturbing. Everyone reacts differently and you may have to experiment, but as a general rule of thumb natural light or full-spectrum light bulbs seem to help. And targeted tabletop or desk lamps are better than overhead lights.
Consider the feel of things.
Then the feel of fabrics, especially bedding, can be really soothing to sensitive sensibilities. Choose soft, snuggly fabrics in colours and patterns your child finds comforting.
Jen is a massive advocate of weighted blankets, which made all the difference to helping her elder child relax at night. Weighted blankets were developed from the idea of ‘deep touch pressure’ – which is a bit like the idea of swaddling a baby to calm and reassure her.
Image credit: Weighted blanket
Lots of research shows it can stimulate the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin and have a calming, organizing effect on the nervous system. This can be a godsend to people with anxiety, ADHD or autism but I’m convinced it can help others, too.
I’ve always slept a lot better with a couple of hefty blankets on top of my duvet and now I know why.