Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How diet can affect the sleep quality of autistic kids

Sleeping child

Sleep troubles are not uncommon for anyone on the autism spectrum, but the effects of sleep loss or low quality sleep are much more intense for someone whose life revolves around routines and a particular level of energy throughout the day.

This guest post highlights some ways that diet could be affecting your sleep quality and quantity, and then the rest of your life.

Why Autistic Children Don’t Get As Much Sleep

Autistic children often have trouble falling asleep at night even when their bodies are at their best, no matter how comfortable their beds. Repetitive behaviours can make sleeping more difficult, and 44 to 86 percent of children with autism have problems sleeping.

Autistic children also tend to wake up a lot more during the night, and on average, a person who has autism spends about 11 more minutes trying to get to sleep (a neurotypical person can expect to spend about 14 minutes to fall asleep). It’s not clear why autistic children have a harder time falling asleep and wake up more during the night, but researchers know that it can make a person’s day much harder.

Sleep disturbances cause more trouble

When you eat foods that give you indigestion, or eat late at night, you are more likely to have trouble staying asleep because you’ll need to go to the bathroom more often when you should be sleeping.

You’re more likely to have trouble falling back asleep after being disturbed than your neurotypical friends, so try and avoid having things disturb you while you sleep whenever possible.

In order to do this, you might want to try a white noise machine to avoid audible distractions from the rest of your household and blocking out as much light as possible during the hours you intend to sleep. You might also want to make sure your phone is out of reach so that the blue wave light doesn’t disturb you when you use it in the middle of the night.

Constantly eating same foods can cause digestion trouble

A lot of autistic people limit their diets, whether it’s because of their food sensitivities, allergies or dietary preferences. This can cause some trouble when it comes to your digestive systems. Try introducing new foods one at a time that have been found to help induce sleep into your diet, such as leafy greens, dairy products and nuts. These products are high in magnesium and calcium, making them perfect for evening meals.

You can also try eating fruit like sour cherries, grapes or pineapple to take advantage of their natural melatonin to help you feel tired. It might be useful to talk to a nutritionist or a professional chef to find ways for you to bring these foods into your diet and make them palatable for your sensory needs.
Autistic people are also much more likely to have sleep disorders, so if you think that could be a problem you’re having, keep a sleep diary for a few weeks and talk to your doctor to see if there could be an underlying issue that is causing more significant sleep troubles.

 This is a guest post from Samantha Kent - a researcher for
Her favourite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.


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