It has been reported 70% – 80% of children with autism suffer from irregular sleep patterns. No one seems to know why autistic children have such a high rate of sleep disturbances, though there are some theories. One theory is the hormone, melatonin is either lacking or in abundance in autistic children compared to their neuro-typical peers.
Over the years, Emma has had a variety of sleep difficulties. These include everything from being unable to fall asleep until very late, to waking up at 3:00AM unable to fall back asleep until 5:30AM. (I’ve written about many of these in previous posts. See Sleep and Sleep Issues Part II.) For the last month we have been giving her melatonin at night, recommended by the neurologists we take her to. It has been extremely effective in getting her to sleep at a reasonable hour and until last night, seemed to be helping her stay asleep as well. However, last night broke all records.
Emma fell asleep at just after 8:00PM and then abruptly woke at just after midnight. It wasn’t one of those groggy-fall-right-back-to-sleep awakenings, but a time-to-turn-on-all-the-lights-and-do-something awakenings. Alert and ready for action, Emma first began to sing and then demanded pancakes. In my exhausted state I had a moment when I actually wondered whether she had read my last post – Pancakes – on this blog. Then I reminded myself she cannot consistently identify the letter p, much less read.
“Emma, it’s not time to get up,” I said.
“Go get Daddy, make pancakes?” Emma asked, though it was said as more of a statement than question.
“No pancakes, Em. Sleep,” I said, at which point she began to whimper.
“Em, it’s really late. It’s not time to get up. It’s time to sleep,” I said.
“Take off alarm?” Emma said handing me the alarm I had pinned to her nightgown after the other nights deluge.
“No Em. We need to keep the alarm on,” I said, fumbling with the safety pin and trying to put it back on as she fought me.
“No! No alarm. Go pee in the toilet,” Emma said and raced off to the bathroom where she peed.
As with so many things autistic, there was the good news and the bad news. The good news was – she woke up in the middle of the night and went to pee without prompting. The bad news was she woke up in the middle of the night and was thoroughly awake, unable to go back to sleep.
“Great job peeing!” She prompted me as she got back into bed.
“Yeah, Em. That was really great. Can we go back to sleep now?” I asked.
“Time to turn on all the lights?” Emma said looking at me with a sly grin.
“No. Definitely not time to turn on the lights. Time to sleep,” I said.
At some point I must have dozed off as an hour later when I woke, Emma was sitting bolt upright on the edge of the bed, singing softly to herself.
“Pancakes?” Emma asked when she saw my eyes open.
“No Em. Not til morning. When it’s light out,” I added.
“Okay,” Emma said.
“How about some melatonin?” I asked.
“Okay,” Emma said.
I gave her half a dose, expecting her to fall back asleep, only she did not. The melatonin, for once, did not seem to have any effect on her at all.
Eventually at 4:00AM Emma fell back asleep. It was an exhausting night.
The good news: she did not wet the bed, despite having removed the alarm and dumping both ‘water-proof’ mattress covers on the floor.