I, like many others on the spectrum, suffer from sleep issues because of my Asperger’s Syndrome. I think there are several reasons for this:
As discussed previously, adults with Asperger’s are much more likely to suffer from anxiety; anxiety in turn leads to restless nights. In my other book, “Emotional Mastery for Adults for Asperger’s”, we look into the causes of anxiety for adults with Asperger’s and what can be done about it. In essence, adults with Asperger’s are generally carrying a lot of stress hormones, which is fuelled by the anxiety in their lives. These stress hormones make it very difficult to sleep.
The obsessive nature of those on the spectrum often creates a situation where the mind does not want to stop. The bounds of creativity and determination to solving problems can lead one to spend many a late night trying to figure out solutions.
Often our obsession to comfort eating means our diets are not as nutritious as they could be. This results in the body being deprived of minerals such as magnesium which give our bodies the natural message to sleep.
Having explored the issue in myself for some time now, I can give a list of things that have worked for me.
- Stop using the computer 2 hours before bed
- Use of sleep apps
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Reduce stress
Stop using the computer 2 hours before bed
Like many on the spectrum I am addicted to technology, using the computer to work late into the night or even checking my iPhone using twitter and Facebook. All of the above stimulate dopamine, which gives the body a pleasure response and becomes addictive — thus stimulating the brain and preventing the rapid onset of sleep. Check out this article in “Psychology Today” about the relationship between Facebook and dopamine: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-beauty-prescription/201205/facebook-and-your-brain.
If you want to ensure you get a good night’s rest, try and discipline yourself to stay away from your computer for two hours before bed. Instead, read a book, take a bath or even meditate.
Meditation is a process where you begin becoming mindful of the thoughts that are prevalent in the brain. There are many different techniques to this, including becoming mindful of the inhalation and exhalation of the breath or staring into a candle. Meditating before bedtime brings the mind into a more still space.
Melatonin is a hormone which is manufactured from your brain’s pineal gland. It is what tells your body when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to wake. Naturally, melatonin levels should rise when it begins to get dark and reduce in the morning, towards dawn. Due to our modern lifestyles, stress and an overactive brain, often this hormone does not get manufactured as it should. Being able to take an additional supplement at night, before bed gives signals to our body that it’s time to rest. While it isn’t a magic bullet in itself, it can be effective when used in conjunction with the other techniques mentioned.
Magnesium is one of the minerals that a lack of in the body will prevent sleep. Taking magnesium regularly as a supplement allows the body’s relaxation mechanism to kick in.
Use of sleep apps
I have had good results with using sleep apps to get to sleep. By playing relaxing music or by using affirmations, these apps can really help you get to sleep easily.
The ones I have been using are:
Reduce caffeine intake
Yes, I know some of you will hate me for suggesting this one, but caffeine is contributing to your insomnia. Not only that but when you wake up tired, the first thing you will do is reach for a large cup of coffee to wake yourself up.
This, in turn, leads to you not being able to sleep. Caffeine gives you a short buzz; it causes the body to dig deep into its energy reserves and give you a bit more energy, but when the buzz is over you end up more tired than you were before. It also leads to an increase in stress hormones and, even though your body is exhausted, you will not be able to sleep.
So do yourself a favour, either cut out caffeine altogether or limit it to 2 cups per day. I know it’s hard but it is required.
I have found a good alternative to coffee is Mate; this gives you a nice little wakeup but you don’t experience the crash in the same way as you would with coffee. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_%28beverage%29.
We keep coming around to the effects of stress on sleep, but it is important. Being able to eliminate the causes of stress in our lives will have a great benefit on getting a good night’s sleep. While it is easy for me to say “relax” (and, really, I know it isn’t that easy), having a constant mindset about finding some time for ourselves each day to relax is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. Relaxation is different for everyone but maybe a hot bath, listening to some relaxing music or maybe just even going for a work can be very beneficial.
One thing I know in myself is that there is a very strong correlation between my lack of exercise and the amount of stress and restlessness in sleep I experience. When I exercise, I am more relaxed generally and find it much easier to sleep at night.
For me, exercise can take the form of going for a run in the morning, doing Qi Gong or yoga. I had quite a revelation in my life when I discovered bikram yoga. It is basically yoga in a sauna. Yes, that’s right, high intensity workout in the form of yoga. If I force myself to do this after work, even though I am tired, it relaxes my mind and tires my body. As long as I don’t get back into the pattern of going back on the computer immediately after I am almost guaranteed to sleep well (note, don’t do this form of yoga if you are pregnant as the foetus is very sensitive to heat).
In conclusion, then, I would like to say that there are many methods for getting a better night’s sleep. Some of these tips will resonate with you and others won’t. It’s important you find your own ways that work for you.
Please leave a comment in the comments section below and let me know if you have any tips that you find helpful