December 26, 2016
Putting a Stop to Sleep Deprivation
Kate’s Story: I usually make it through December by sheer force of will and then crash in January. Now all I want to do is sleep but I can’t because I’m so caught up worrying about what I potentially did wrong. So I end up in a vicious cycle of feeling exhausted but not being about to do anything about it. Did I say something offensive without realizing it? Did people hate their gifts and not tell me? Did I eat too much chocolate and ham?
Dave’s Story: I’ve always had trouble with sleep. I like to stay up late and watch movies or play video games and it’s easy to say “just one more” all night long. It’s caused some problems in my life like sleeping through meetings and missing out on activities I’ve wanted to do.
Most folks on the spectrum report having some kind of sleep challenge from just feeling tired, experiencing regular nightmares, to serious insomnia or choosing to stay up all night. Sleep is a fundamental human need along with breathing, eating and drinking and the same processing and sensory issues that make it hard to remember to eat and drink on schedule may make it especially hard for some of us to get the sleep we need.
Lack of quality sleep is known to impact mood, motor functioning and cognition, and increase the likelihood of accidents. Sleep disturbance can also intensify existing problems such as chronic pain as well.
During the holidays, challenges of getting a good night’s sleep are compounded with changes in routine, increased anxiety, excitement and sensory overload. Remember too that as we age, our sleeping patterns shift and it can be harder to get adequate sleep the older we get.
Jaime’s Story: I started to notice I was making some fairly significant mistakes in my work and it occurred to me that I had been sleep deprived for a very long time. I’d been ill and after my surgery I never got into a healthy pattern of rest. So I made it a priority to go to bed a couple hours earlier and make sure my bedroom was completely dark. It made such a significant difference and now on those occasions when I stay up too late reading or watching movies online I notice the difference. Another thing that has really helped is for me to to on a “bad news diet”. In short, I don’t watch the news or any disturbing movies any more. I have a tendency to obsess about them and the images get stuck in my mind. I notice less nightmares on “my diet”.
Tips for sleeping well:
- Set an alarm to remind you to go to bed. It’s a good idea to set one alarm 10 or 20 minutes before you plan to get ready for bed so you can wind down you evening activities and then set another alarm for the time when you actually start your bedtime routine
- Go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time each day
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine (if you don’t already have one) that includes relaxing activities such as listening to soothing music, a warm (not hot) bath, candles, sensory tools (putty or other fidget toys).
- Make sure the room you sleep in is dark (eliminate all lights from windows, lights and electronics)
- Use a “blue shade” on your computer or glasses at night (light at night, especially blue light is associated with a decrease in melatonin production)
- Avoid stimulating movies, television programs, games and conversations
- Eating a light bedtime snack may help you sleep if you don’t have gastro-intestinal issues
- Avoid drinking alcohol which may make you feel groggy but then interfere with your sleep cycle
- Use a weighted blanket and/or sleep with a pet. Some folks report that sleeping with their dog or cat helps them get a better rest.
- Exercise and spend time in the sun during the early daylight hour to improve sleep quality but avoid evening or late night exercise
- Wind down your thoughts by practicing deep breathing, visualization and/or progressive muscle relaxation
- Keep a notebook by your bed so you can write down any thoughts, ideas, worries or tasks that might keep you awake
- Wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to keep uncontrollable noises down
- For those who have nightmares, do not watch disturbing or scary movies, the news or other images that can get stuck in your mind.