When Alex was a baby, my mom shared with me an adage her mother had taught her about babies: “The more they sleep, the more they sleep.” While this advice seems nonsensical, I found it absolutely true. If Alex slept well at night, he took long naps, and if he rested comfortably during his naps, he got a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, Alex nearly always slept well at night and during daytime naps, which made him a content baby. Early on, we established routines to calm him before bedtime: a bath, a story, prayers, and a goodnight kiss. For many years, he liked me to read Goodnight Moon every night; while I grew tired of the great green room and the little old woman whispering, “Hush,” Alex loved that part of the story. When he was a little older, he preferred to hear the Veggie Tales’ book Time for Tom, which I liked, as well, and I quickly memorized its catchy rhyme and cadence. Like clockwork, Alex happily and faithfully went to bed at 7:00 and slept soundly about twelve hours through the night.
When Alex was around five-and-a-half years old, he suddenly stopped sleeping well. We would try to put him to bed at his regular bedtime, but he was no longer able to settle down and go to sleep right away, as he had in the past. Uncertain as to what had triggered the abrupt change in him, we missed our good sleeper. He would often keep popping out of his room until ten o’clock, and we’d keep taking him back to his bedroom. Moreover, we would sometimes find him wandering around the house in the middle of the night. Several times, we would find him sitting in the living room recliner with the television on, watching The Weather Channel or CNN. So that we could get some sleep, we would put him in bed with us, where he would finally stay. Three people in a bed, however, made a crowd, so one of us would usually go sleep in our guest bed or in Alex’s bed. Sometimes after Alex was asleep, he’d hog our bed, and some nights, we three wound up in three separate beds, but at least we were able to get some rest that way.
After a few weeks of Alex’s nightly wanderings, I started researching the sleep habits of children with autism and discovered his behavior was not untypical. Many parents reported that their children greatly benefited from taking the supplement melatonin prior to bedtime to help them go to sleep and to rest peacefully through the night. I consulted with Alex’s doctor, who assured me that melatonin is perfectly safe, and she agreed that this supplement would likely help Alex without having any negative side effects. The pineal gland in the brain naturally produces the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, but research shows that some children with autism have low levels of melatonin, impairing their sleep. Consequently, melatonin supplements can improve sleep patterns and have the added bonus of acting as a powerful antioxidant to protect the body. After giving Alex his first dose of melatonin an hour before bedtime, we watched him yawn and gradually get drowsy. He went to bed earlier that night, fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly through the night in his own bed. The next morning, he awoke in a pleasant mood, alert and happy. For us, melatonin made miraculous changes; we all could sleep peacefully now. Alex has continued to take melatonin supplements with consistently positive results through the years, although we have increased the dosage as he has grown. After his bedtime prayers and a goodnight kiss, he still settles down happily in bed every night, saying with me—as we have for years: “Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite!” before he contentedly drifts off to a sound sleep until morning.
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” Psalm 4:8