After a rather strange and disturbed night’s sleep the other night (thanks to Dog, Mrs Bob, an open window and weird dream cycles, not necessarily in that order) and then feeling strange all day the following day, I have been wondering about how sleep patterns and dream cycles good or bad and can affect the brain of someone with ASD. After a bit of research, I was shocked to find that sleep issues are quite prevalent in people with ASD – statistics show that it can range from 40% to a scary 80%. I, myself, have always had really odd sleeping habits. Sometimes it takes me a long time to fall asleep. Other nights I wake up maybe half a dozen times, due to one reason or another. Other times I can have very little sleep and wake up at 5:00am ready for work, and hit the ground running with an energy that seems to amaze and annoy others. As an adult, I’ve come to realise that having the right sleeping conditions can make a really big difference,
There are a number of ways to get that sometimes elusive perfect night’s sleep that you may find helpful. Some I’ve tried personally, others have been mentioned to me as helpful. I have found that I need to be physically tired to get a good sleep; fortunately in my line of work I get quite a lot of it with all the walking around that I do! Failing that, you could always get an hour or so of exercise a day – maybe go for a walk (the sea air near us is perfect as it contains huge amounts of negativity charged ions which helps with sleep). Maybe go for a bike ride or a swim or mix it up a little and do a combo of these things.
Bedding is another one that has been mentioned a number of times on various sites. A good mattress is crucial, and should be replaced every ten years. I always spend as much as I can on a mattress, given that I spend a third of my time on it! I can’t vouch for the next one, but it would appear to make sense. Heavy blankets are apparently good, as the pressure of a heavy blanket is more relaxing over a light sheet or blanket. However, there is a fine line when it comes both this and the next factor, which is temperature. I personally find that I prefer the room to be nice and cool in order to get a better quality of sleep. I’m not sure if this Aspie related, but if I get too warm I tend to spend more time awake than in slumber. To help with this I also like to pair the latter with comfy sleepwear. I can’t wear anything too loose as I end up waking up feeling like it’s strangling me if I toss and turn and it gets wrapped up around me! The best fit for me is my pajama trousers and a t shirt. This brings me onto two things that may seem like me teaching you to suck eggs but please bear with me: Familiar surroundings. I find it much easier to get a quality night’s sleep at home or where I’m familiar. When I’m on holiday or staying away from home it takes me longer to get to sleep due to my brain needing to catalogue the unfamiliar sounds and smells. This leads on to the other issue of either quiet or noise. I need either total quiet or a consistent natural noise (wind, waves, steady traffic, etc,) to fall asleep to. Something like intermittent voices, a radio or a television – even one playing in an adjoining hotel room will keep me awake until it stops. In fact, I’ll usually be awake long after it stops because of the anxiety it can create. The room also has to be completely dark as I can’t sleep unless it is. Light shining in my room through a window or under/around a door will keep me awake terribly and cause me to be ratty.
Before I sleep, I find that watching some light television like comedy is always a winner, rather than perhaps a horror or noisy cop drama. The other great one is reading, which has been one of my favourites since childhood; it distracts and calms me. I think it can also become a sleep cue. When I pick up a book in bed, my brain starts sending out sleep signals to my body. It usually only takes 15-20 minutes of reading before I start to feel myself drifting off. The down side is a book hitting your face will kind of disturb your sleep a little!
Above all, it’s a fine balancing act between these and any number of personal tricks and techniques that you as an individual have found to work. Remember that if something isn’t working, don’t get stressed or wound up as that will really not help you at all. Maybe it’s a bath and a podcast or a movie and a hot chocolate – whatever it is that you find works best for you. It’s a very personal and individual choice that may not work for someone else.
It’s good to share! If you have any tips about sleeping well, please do comment here.