Revealing – Are Sleep Difficulties Rampant in Autism?

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Coping with Sleep Difficulties: Insights from an Autistic Perspective

Sleep, is it common to experience sleep difficulties when you have autism?

As a child, I found it incredibly hard to settle down

I’ve struggled with sleep difficulties for most of my life. The biggest challenge? Feeling like there’s an hour missing from my day. I don’t want to shorten my day, but I’d love an extra hour of rest. Feeling truly rested with anything less than 9 hours of sleep has always been a challenge. As a child, I found it incredibly hard to settle down; my legs seemed to have a mind of their own. More than once, I’ve collapsed, utterly exhausted, with one foot on the floor and the other on the bedside lamp. Thankfully, I discovered a relaxation method that works for me, so now I can unwind and settle down without a hitch. However, that doesn’t mean I sleep more.

Insights – Are Sleep Difficulties Common?

But are sleep difficulties common in autism? Yes, they are. Sleep issues are prevalent among individuals with autism. Studies have shown that up to 80% of people with autism experience sleep difficulties, compared to about 10-30% of the general population.

Sleep difficulties in individuals with autism can manifest in various ways, including difficulty falling asleep, early morning awakening, frequent awakenings during the night, or overall poor sleep quality. It’s important to note that sleep problems can affect both children and adults with autism.

Personal Experience:

Oh how common this is.. being up and about at 11…

I’ve always had a window in the evening when I feel tired, usually somewhere between 6-7:30 PM. If I fall asleep then, I usually wake up around 11 PM, disrupting my night’s rest. Don’t think it’s easy to fall back asleep before the late-night radio starts after midnight. If I miss my tired period in the early evening, my inner teenager emerges. I have no problem staying up late for an evening activity; going to bed feels pointless as it only leads to tossing and turning. Nowadays, I might read a book or distract myself with music or other media on my phone or tablet, but as everyone knows, it’s not an effective method for winding down. However, I often fall asleep while watching TV or similar activities.

Insomnia and Challenges:
Once I’m asleep, I usually stay asleep, unless I’ve fallen asleep too early. If I doze off before 9 PM, I usually wake up sometime between 2 and 3:30 AM, making it impossible to fall back asleep. Far from the 9 hours of sleep I need to feel fully rested. However, if I go to bed around 10 PM and remain undisturbed, then sometimes I sleep soundly until 7 AM the next morning. Unfortunately, this only happens a few times a year.

Consequences and Coping:
In recent years, my lack of sleep has begun to show. I often feel tired and sluggish by mid-morning. Engaging in constructive or creative work is incredibly challenging for me now, as the required energy never materializes. Unfortunately, my disrupted sleep has become a pattern and routine that my autistic brain adheres to, making it increasingly difficult to achieve a good night’s sleep and maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. As you may understand, I rarely get more than 6 hours of sleep, a poor equation when I need close to ten hours to feel rested.

My tips for you.

Try to relax, preferable in bed instead in front of the TV.

I mentioned earlier that I use a relaxation method to sleep. It might help you too, but it took several years of active training for me to find it effective. I use a variation of progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s a brief description of how to perform progressive muscle relaxation:

  1. Sit or lie comfortably in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Begin by focusing on your breathing and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Then, start by tensing the muscles in your toes by curling them up towards your body. Hold the tension for about 5-10 seconds and feel the muscles tighten.
  4. Release the tension and relax the muscles.
  5. Move up to the ankles and repeat the process by tensing and then relaxing the muscles.
  6. Continue working your way up through the body, tensing and relaxing the muscles in the legs, hips, abdomen, back, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and face.

It’s important not to tense the muscles too much, just enough to feel the tension. You should also not experience pain or discomfort during the exercise. Over the years, my relaxation routine has gone from taking perhaps 10 minutes to now around a minute. Sometimes you learn shortcuts when you have autism.

The causes of sleep difficulties in individuals with autism are not entirely clear, but several factors may contribute. For example, sensory overload and difficulties regulating emotions and stress levels can affect sleep in people with autism. Other health problems associated with autism, such as gastrointestinal issues and epilepsy, can also impact sleep.

It’s important to recognize and address sleep difficulties in individuals with autism, as they can affect their well-being and their ability to function during the day. If sleep problems persist for an extended period, seeking help from a doctor or sleep specialist to explore suitable treatment options may be beneficial.

Sleep and sleep difficulties in autism are broad topics, and many have written about them before. Paula Tilli is just one of the many who have inspired me to try writing a bit about my own struggles. The thing about sleep difficulties is that they affect everything in life. Having experienced a few weeks of poor sleep, I notice it when I try to be creative and even in my daily routines. Simple tasks like cleaning, grooming, or cooking suddenly become incredibly difficult. As I write this, I realize that I probably need to revisit the topic of sleep at a later time when I am more rested. This is to delve deeper into the subject of sleep and its challenges.

Please feel free to comment on my article below and remember that you can help the website grow by liking my posts and follow me on twitter. If you like what I have written here and want to know more about health issues having Autism. Then you are in luck, I have written an article earlier about some health issues here.


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