Training parents of children with autism in good sleeping practice results in better sleep and behavior in their children, according to study information released September 23. Sleep education was provided to parents of 80 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by researchers from Vanderbilt University and their colleagues who conducted this study. Parents participating in the study felt more competent after receiving the training.
“We found that one hour of one-on-one sleep education or four hours of group sleep education delivered to parents, combined with two brief follow-up phone calls, improved sleep as well as anxiety, attention, repetitive behavior and quality of life in children with ASD who had difficulty falling asleep,” said study author Beth Malow, M.D. “The parents also benefited; they reported a higher level of parenting competence after completing the education sessions.”
Autism and sleep problems
Sleep issues are one of the most common problems reported by parents of children with ASD. As many as 80 percent of children with ASD also have a sleep problem reports WebMD. Lack of sleep has repercussions for both parents and children. Sleep problems can increase challenging behaviors in children with ASD. This behavior often increases parents’ stress levels.
Solutions to sleep problems
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by a gland in the brain reports WebMD. It helps regulate people’s natural sleep cycles. Melatonin is also available as a dietary supplement. Many parents use melatonin to help their children sleep better.
The safety and effectiveness of melatonin are in dispute. The National Institutes of Health describe melatonin as "helpful" for sleep problems. However, it does not recommend using melatonin in children. A recent study found that “children gained little additional sleep on melatonin; though they fell asleep significantly faster.” An earlier study concluded that melatonin was promising as a sleep aid for children with ASD. Researchers in both studies recommended further investigations of melatonin usage.
The authors of the current study recommend parents try a sleep tool kit available from Autism Speaks. Parents who are considering using melatonin for their children's sleep problems should discuss this matter with their children's doctors.
The study was conducted by Vanderbilt University in conjunction with the University of Toronto and the University of Colorado, Denver. The study, “Parent-Based Sleep Education for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.