Some of the sleep struggles include:
• Not falling asleep
• Racing thoughts
• Waking during the night or early in the morning
• Once awake, not falling back to sleep
• Restless sleep, tossing and turning
And more common in children:
• Night terrors of screaming and crying in a panic, but never actually waking up
• Not able to sleep alone and needing physical contact with a loved one – sometimes just to fall asleep and sometimes throughout the night
There are disruptions in sleeping patterns that can come and go in cycles and last for days or weeks.
Teens and adults that have access to technology in the evening and nighttime often find it extremely difficult to turn it off to go to sleep. They often end up staying awake half or most of the night and then sleeping until the afternoon.
Some studies indicate that autistic individuals spend less of their sleep in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which is important for learning and memory. And there may be a genetic predisposition to a disrupted sleep-wake struggle.
This means that extra focus and effort is needed to improve your sleep.
Many autistic people often have additional disorders or conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and/or depression that can contribute to insomnia.
Some autistic people seem to function fairly well with less sleep, while others tend to have more problems during the day that includes increased sensory sensitivity, irritability, stimming, depression, social anxiety and more.
There are a lot of factors that affect sleep, and it can feel overwhelming. But it’s well worth trying different strategies to find what works best for you. Even if you tried something in the past, it’s worth trying again. We are ever changing, and it just may help this time.
Improving your sleep could mean making one change or a combination. Even having overall success does not mean you won’t have any more sleepless nights. Especially when your stressed, ate too much junk food, or going through life transitions, some sleeplessness can be inevitable.
How to Improve Your Sleep
1. Accept That You Have Insomnia – It’s very important to start this process by accepting that you have a problem sleeping. The more you stress and worry about not sleeping, the more likely you are to have more difficulty sleeping.
When going to bed you may think, “oh no – another sleepless night!” This is very understandable. But acceptance is key! A relaxed mindset, not stressful thoughts, is going to help you sleep.
Learn to accept that this is what it is for now. You’ve lived with being sleep deprived, and it will last a little longer. Just breathe and have hope that it’ll get better. It’s going to be a matter of finding what works for you.