Autism, Sleep, and Exercise

Jul 01, 2015
Tagged with: Autism, Sleep, and Exercise

Did you know that children ages 6 to 13 years need a recommended 9-11 hours of sleep? Did you know that children ages 6 to 17 years need a recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day? Lastly, did you know that research shows a correlation between individuals with autism, exercise, and sleep?

David Wachob and David Lorenzi from Indiana University recently conducted a study in which 10 individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of 9-17 years were measured for two things: time spent participating in physical activity and amount of time in restful sleep. Their 7 day study resulted in their participants having more restful sleep as they increased their physical activity during the day. In other words, an increase in exercise like outdoor play meant an increase in sleep. This, in turn, could potentially lead to more positive results like increased attention span, weight loss, behavior changes, and social interactions. But how do we get our kiddos to move? How do we get them away from the TV and computer? I will be discussing 3 easy steps that will hopefully help in getting your family moving.

Our first step, and probably the most important, is to set the mood in regards to exercise. Most kids see exercise as a chore when in reality it should be fun. Find something that your child can relate to. This can be stickers, coloring books, games, or TV time (TV time is an incentive) of their favorite show or characters, for example “Big Hero 6”. Decorate your workout area in pictures or printouts of their favorite character and make it more inviting. You can even use a “Big Hero 6” t-shirt as their official workout uniform. This will hopefully shed some positive/fun perspective on exercise.

                Our second step is finding an activity to do. We, as adults, have the misconception of associating exercise with a gym, lifting heavy weights, or flipping tractor tires. In reality, exercise can be anything from jumping, squatting, crawling, and skipping. Our goal will be to raise your child’s heart rate and breathing to the point of mild perspiration. This is a good indication of their body working hard. Some examples of activities you can do are dancing (at least 2 minutes at a time with large movements), playing tag (parents run after the children), or color hopscotch (using colored sidewalk chalk). Your goal is to keep them moving for 15 minutes at a time and work up to 60 minutes daily. Their progress will vary but remember to be patient.

                Our third step is setting a time frame in which you start and end your exercise sessions. Children with autism respond to guidelines and structure. By setting a start/stop time frame you will help set structure to their exercise time. This can be easily done without the use of a clock. I have used music as an indicator for starting and stopping. You simply turn on the radio or play their favorite cd and begin your exercise time. Once you notice you have reached your goal time you turn off the music. They will start associating exercise time with music. I have also used a digital timer. You can set it to your goal time and when the timer dings, you are done. Kiddos will start associating the ding with the end of exercise time.

                Restful sleep is an important part of a child’s development but sleep can be constantly interrupted due to extra energy in the body. If we help our kids use up that extra energy during the day they will have a better opportunity of having a restful night. What do YOU do when you can’t sleep?

-Wachob, David, and David G. Lorenzi. “Brief Report: Influence of Physical Activity on Sleep Quality in Children with Autism.” J Autism Dev Disord Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2015). Print.
-National Sleep Foundation:
-Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

Author: Alfred Chavira

  • bobl07

    In our quest to be as active as possible, people forget that rest and sleep are very important for a healthy lifestyle.