One of the parenting lessons I had to learn the hard way was what an important role daytime and evening activities play in a child’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. I remember the night that I stumbled into the following epiphany: kids should never, ever watch “Tom and Jerry” before bed. Seasoned parents might be shaking their heads and saying, “Duh!” to themselves right now, but really, it was a revelation to me when I realized that the action-packed adventures of the cat and mouse show were keeping my twin preschoolers awake at night.
Now, researchers from Vanderbilt University have found that educating parents of autistic children on simple techniques like avoiding high energy shows and video games before bedtime can help improve their kids’ behavior and quality of life.
Improving sleep through parent education
I wrote an article last year about a study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine that linked sleep problems to behavioral issues in kids with ADHD. That 13,000 member study showed that kids with ADHD who suffered from sleep disorders resulting from breathing problems also had a significantly increased incidence of behavioral problems.
The study from Vanderbilt University also looked at behavioral issues and sleep, but with respect to kids diagnosed with autism. Researchers sought to determine whether educating parents about ways to improve their children’s quality of sleep might improve daytime behaviors and quality of life.
Better sleep, happier kids
With a relatively small amount of parent education – just one hour one-on-one or four hours of group training – the families in the study were able to learn several ways to improve their kids’ sleep. These included decreasing caffeine consumption, increasing daytime exercise and limiting exposure to video games before bed, among other helpful tips.
Families reported not only an improvement in their children’s ability to sleep at night, but also an improvement in symptoms like anxiety, attention, and repetitive behavior. This translated to a reported better quality of life for families of children with autism.
Maybe good news for all families
If better sleep improves behavior and quality of life for both children with autism and ADHD, perhaps teaching parents how to help their kids get a better night’s sleep would help almost every family. I know that once I had my moment of clarity over the effect the hijinks of Tom and Jerry were having on my kids, we all slept better and enjoyed happier mornings.
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