Parent sleep education is beneficial in improving sleep and aspects of daytime behavior and family functioning in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a Vanderbilt study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Vanderbilt joined with the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Toronto to carry out a study of 80 children with ASD, ages 2-10 years, primarily focused on teaching parents the basics of sleep education.
"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., professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, and the Burry Professor of Cognitive Childhood Development.
"The parents also benefited; they reported a higher level of parenting competence after completing the education sessions. The one-on-one and group sessions showed similar levels of success. In contrast, an earlier study that simply gave parents a pamphlet without guidance on how to use it did not provide the same level of improvement in child sleep."
Before entering the study, all children were examined for medical conditions that could cause sleep problems, such as gastrointestinal disorders or seizures. In the instructional sessions, parents learned about daytime and evening habits that promote sleep, including the importance of increasing exercise, limiting caffeine during the day and minimizing use of video games and computers close to bedtime.
Sleep educators helped parents put together a visual schedule for their children to help them establish a bedtime routine and discussed ways to help children get back to sleep if they woke up at night.