Addressing Asperger’s Sleep Issues
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:
Sleep app: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/sleep-app-insomnia-relaxing/id585606271?mt=8.
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
Thank you for compiling these strategies. I too go through periods of sleep trouble. I don’t necessarily struggle getting off to sleep like some people do, I wake up from 2am onwards with whizzing thoughts and problem solving. I need to be stricter with myself about ‘me’ time and relaxation in think after reading your blog!
Thank you for compiling these strategies. I too go through periods of sleep trouble. I don’t necessarily struggle getting off to sleep like some people do, I wake up from 2am onwards with whizzing thoughts and problem solving. I need to be stricter with myself about ‘me’ time and relaxation in think after reading your blog.
Working through the same issue: I’d been at least mildly depressed for at least several years – untreated – but I’m past that now only to find anxiety is the big issue and then insomnia. I’ve had these problems forever and didn’t know until after I was diagnosed aged 48. My problem anxiety is caused simply by being around people. This is because I have so little comprehension of what is going on with other people, and the huge insecurity that that causes.
I’m trying to use amongst other strategies, self hypnosis methods (I’m largely influenced by Jack Gibson’s book Relax and Live! in this, and also because I used hypnotherapy on other occasions such as successfully giving up smoking). I first tried to learn how to relax (that’s working well), then created a recording in hypno-language to try to nudge myself into better attitude and values regarding being around people while relaxing, which seems to help. It was at that point I realized that I’ve been adopting habits and behaviors to manage my anxiety problems, such as cruising the web, drinking, procrastinating and things like this. These work, but at a cost, and now that I know this, I’ve become determined to change them into habits, behaviors and attitudes and values that serve me better.
If for example I don’t drink a could of beers before I go to bed, the anxiety becomes severe, and I don’t sleep (and they are horrible, never ending nights). If I’ve been around people that day, it’s so much worse. But I’m beginning to get results with getting past those anxieties.
I’m hoping that creating a hypnosis recording to induce relaxation, nudge – by suggestion – my values and behaviors away from the useless and destructive ones, and toward better, more supportive ones (my conscious mind – after research, study and contemplation – completely and absolutely accepts that these changes would really help, if my subconscious accepts these, my behavior will change, and I’ll be sorted) and embedding in my mind a mantra that will ultimately bring on sleep will help.
This idea of embedding a mental trigger to induce sleep comes form a friend of mine who may or may not be on the spectrum. He says that he started using a mantra which he always recites to himself every single time he goes to sleep, that it has become completely effective and he could sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. Jack Gibson also says that it is well worth developing such a mantra and suggests on the in breath “I will sleep” on on the out breath “I must sleep” – that after while, you’ll be asleep in no time every time you use this key.
If this works for me, I’ll be past a lot of my Aspie caused problems, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be successful in this. I’ve been for months now listening to the Goldberg Variations as I go to bed – it helps, but not enough. I’m hoping for better results.
Bikran yoga is bad when you take antipsychotic Medecine like olanzapine …since you must avoid heat per se.
Avoid hot yoga if you take some psychiatric Medecine that you must avoid heat or even do exercise outdoors or make you sweat…olanzapine is one of them.
Hi there, I love your blog because I am very isolated with my Asbie. Would love to meet others in my area.
Not to gloat, but sleep is one issue I am blessed not to struggle with. I asked my mother about this after I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 19. She said that I was so anxious all the time that my brain was exhausted and simply turned off at night. I do take Melatonin with L-Theanine and that helps me to get to sleep. Your blog is very informative. I don’t drink any caffeine as it makes me feel off the wall anxious. The only sleep related issue I have had is falling asleep when in a strange environment such as another person’s home or a hospital.
Very good advice! Some detail seems helpful that we often do not think about: Controlling the direction of the eyes behind closed lids. I find them directing upward when I am ridden by insomnia. In this case, I look down, figuring myself on a hill, looking down on the sea or a lake, with some hills in the background. A peaceful, quiet landscape with a fresh or warm wind blowing, just as I like it.
Turning our eyes upward makes us remember and ponder; this simple trick works against the flood of thoughts.
I have almost always had trouble sleeping and only this year did I connect it with Aspergers. Partly because I was only diagnosed at the start of this year, although I had suspected for well over 10 years that I was on the spectrum.
Armed with my recent diagnosis I went to my Dr and explained my sleep issues and asked about Melatonin. Her in the UK it is only available on prescription and then it’s only licensed for old folks with chronic insomnia and only 3 weeks of pills! Go figure. Anyway, by Dr was OK with prescribing it for me ‘off license’ and initial results were nothing short of miraculous. Due to this success the prescription is available to me on a repeat basis and Dr is happy for me to use daily ( nightly 😉 ). However, in the last month or two it doesn’t seem to affect me any more! Whereas I used to feel sleep within 30mins of taking it I now can’t tell I have had it. It’s odd and I’m going to talk to my Dr again soon.
I have been meditating for about 21months now, I can heartedly recommend it for general benefits. It usually could help me get to sleep if I did it when in bed. It’s also a good way to start the day. When you first get up, sit and meditate for 10mins 🙂
I think all the advice in this article is very relevant; so thanks for collating it 🙂
Hi. I’ve been following your site for years since suspecting I had autism. Recently being diagnosed makes me feel like I am able to add input! This is a great article, I have regular bouts of insomnia which are very much the result of stuff going round in my head that I can’t sort out. But more than that, I have excessive daytime sleepiness. Recently I discovered that my anti-depressants have been making it worse. But basically I never ever feel resting after a nights sleep. I used to catch up by having maybe 16/18 hours once a week, but now with a young child it’s impossible and causes endless problems. I was wondering if others with ASDs had this problem and whether it could be autism-related and neurological or if I should continue to push at my GP to find a physical or dietary reason for it. Thanks!
Some people think that ASD is a genetic predisposition – a mutation that suggests evolution is a falicy. A scholarly paper was published to say – ongstany other things – that the wooden thinking that comes with ASD makes it difficult to believe in God…it was retracted because it caused an uproar…I wonder if a well focussed aspie would consider if these theories are true?
I’ve learned to take naps. I can fall asleep ok most of the time but after 4 hours or so I’m up and at it. When I awake it’s as though my mind picks up right where it left off before I fell asleep. And it seems to be getting worse as I get older.
Weird despise i have all those problems issues and has Asperger my major problem is stress.
I sleep hours and hours but i can’t get a repair good rest xD
Two more points could be added:
1. Having a regular diurnal pattern – getting up at the same time each day, including weekends and going to bed at the same time, too.
2. When using electronic devices, install a software that will gradually reduce blue spectrum in its light towards the evening. I use f.lux in the PC and also in the mobile phone.
A bonus: having fresh air in the bedroom and appropriate room temperature is also important… Dark and quiet bedroom are a must. Plus all the other usual good sleep hygiene rules you can find elsewhere.
Very nice article. I use melatonin every night and it really helps a lot.
It takes me a while to fall asleep , but once I do, I’m out. Nothing wakes me up, even by morning time it’s very hard to wake up. Anyone else experience this?
Another thing that cured my insomnia – have kids. You will find you are so sleep deprived and not thinking about your own interests that you can’t stay awake!
many of the other tips I have also had to adopt but more because I was destroying my body through stress reactions from dealing with Aspergers e.g. High blood pressure, cholesterol, stomach reflux, migraines etc….. And most of your suggestions are good for all these, body and brain healthwise
I’ve done plenty of research things to help falling asleep, and these are some good suggestions.
I would be careful about taking melatonin and any herbal supplement on a regular basis. Oregano and Chamomile tea both help you fall asleep, as do kiwifruit and walnuts, without risking being addictive. (as in, making it harder to fall asleep without them)
If you’re not on any sort of sleeping tablets, valerian and/or skullcap based tea can also help, but be aware that these can become habit-forming.
I didn’t know about the connection between tech and dopamine, but anything with a screen also has higher amounts of blue light, which stimulates cortisol production – that’s the opposite of melatonin, increases in the morning and decreases in the eve – and there are apps available to cut out the blue light (although these won’t work on all screens) (also most social networking sites are quite blue and white, which increases the blue light you pick up as well)
And caffeine can stay in your system for 10-12 hours, so if you MUST have caffeine, only have it in the morning when you wake up.
And avoid sugar before bed too. Salt stimulates the adrenal glands, too.
Just if anyone finds that infodump helpful at all.
(also if you wake up during the night, it can be because your body complex is a little low on energy, so having a bit of honey before bed can help with that.)
Brilliant article. I find the F-lux app extremely helpful. Available free for all devices with screens, you just type in your location or postcode and it automatically ever after reduces the blue light from the screen at sundown [goes back up at dawn] so your poor body does not get deceived into thinking it is still daytime. This helps wind down after you do turn the pc etc off. I heard about it on a BBC Radio 4 programme.
I find that sleep patterns can vary quite wildly. As an Autistic Woman I think that I am out of sync with my own body clock. It is as if the mind has its own time zone. I don’t, as far as I am aware get more moody on a monthy basis; but there is a pattern of sleep versus wakefulness that cycles round in roughly 3 to 4 monthly repeated extremes of needing excessive sleep to needing very little. I agree about the caffeine intake, it is best avoided. I think it affects mood and levels of irritability, which in turn affect quality of sleep. I find it useful to think about something that makes me happy when trying to relax. The use of technology as a gateway to news reports interfers with relaxation. Sometimes retreat to ones own world is the best way to get better rest; even when sleep is elusive.
I use melatonin. I take 1mg about 45 minutes before laying down. Sometimes, if something wakes me (like snoring or a cat wanting out), I will take an additional .5mg (500 mcg) at that time. I don’t have anything with caffeine after 6pm—usually much earlier . . . like maybe 4:30pm at the latest. And, especially during the week days when I work in the mornings for a taxable wage, I am not on the computer after about 7pm. This evening, though, it’s ten past seven and here I am contributing a comment. The system is perfect. I am not. 🙂
I cant stop computer/tv use before bed…slows my mind… need it. If I’m going through a patch of poor sleep I use blue blockers.( Yellow lense sun glasses worn for 2 hours before planned bedtime)This is blue light therapy. With the absence of blue light my body produces melatonin. Anyone who has chickens will automatically be across this concept. They go to roost with reduction in daylight. Its only the last couple of hundred years in our evolution we have had the option of artificial daylight after the sun goes down.
works a treat!
If I wake and get up during the night…before switching on any lights (destroys melatonin) I pop on the glasses so increasing my options of falling asleep again.
4 pm and 4 am are when the sleep and waking hormones begin to stir. I have great respect for my circadian rhythm…. optimize my chances of having a refreshing sleep.
I do exercise; at 6 p.m. I typically make an evening snack; just some fruit and milk. As i do this, i boil water for my chamomile tea with honey. I am trying to add a mindfulness meditation routine after my tea. I do use a CD because i need to be guided, and put it in my computer, but i adjust the volume and I don’t sit right in front of it. It is for the purpose of listening and guidance, not typing and interaction. Then i take a shower, brush my teeth, put my towels and clothes in the hamper, and climb in bed.
I get a lot of anxiety during the day and am looking for ways to better my evening routine so i get to sleep easier, without my mind racing.