sleep sense & autism
If there was a solution that worked 100% of the time, every night, autistics & their carers would know about it & there'd be no need to read on. It's true that a huge percentage of autistics do not sleep well but, not all. Much like the therapies out there, the advice on improving sleep is a minefield for carers & autistics alike. We'd spend a lifetime trying out each one so that's no good, not to mention how costly it could all be, for no real results either.
I'm no academic on the subject & whilst I've researched amongst other autism carers & autistics themselves (who are verbal & can tell me as my son is not able to), it has not been extensive so, this blog is really describing how it is for me, sharing some of the things that have helped & that I wish I had discovered sooner.
Maybe we need to accept that perhaps an autistic person does not need as much sleep as others do, & never will. Or, an autistic person simply cannot & will never sleep a full 6-8hrs because their brains are wired differently & that's just the way it is. Finding things to help them get as much sleep as possible for their health & to find peace & calm rather than anxiety when they don't, is what we're all after.
Before sleep though, comes getting to sleep! In my own words, ah-hem, it's as though my son Henry is unable to shut himself down mentally so he has to wait for his body to do it. For the past 7 or so years that has meant taking anything from 1 to 3 hrs per night to go to sleep & again once he has woken during the night. There are no antics as parents of neuro-typicals would perhaps expect, there is no attention-seeking & bribing doesn't work either.
I have found myself to be super patient & calm because I understand basically. It has been hilarious at times too. Henry is super happy about his bedtime routine & most nights it was all giggles, happiness, fake snores & even the odd echolalia "sweet dreams" etc. But, before I even made it to the door (3 paces) he was sitting upright or already out of his bed. So this game of Henry comes downstairs, we take him up went on & on & on, every single night, year after year.
Finally, a wonderful tablet crushed each night into a teaspoon of elderberry juice & called 'melatonin' (only available in the UK on prescription) & for the first time ever, we have seen Henry sit still at 9pm, calm, relaxed, yawning (how could I have not noticed that he never yawned). We have seen his eyes get droopy, we tuck him up in bed & he's off to peaceful sleep in under 15mins! No words can describe the game changer this has been.
Apparently, autistics do not produce enough of or any of their own melatonin hormone so prescribing it each night is ok under advisement. We have seen no side effects. It does NOT make them sleep all through the night but, that's fine with me. As Henry ages he tends to stay in his own room laughing & chattering away to himself now before going back to sleep, or, he comes into our room & that's fine too. I'm over it.
Other little tips & tricks we have learned are to put a double duvet over a single bed ie long sort of weighted sides & tuck in the end only. A red night light that he turns up to a kind of white-ish yellow & once asleep I turn it down to red. A white-noise speaker, on low, permanently, placed underneath the bed. A common aid for many high functioning autistics is to listen to audio-books. Others go the lavender oils in the bath or Epsom salts route, none of which have ever made any real difference for us but, may have done for others.
And who's looking after the parents/carers & their interrupted deep sleep & exhaustion levels then? I fear there will be long term effects for me ie brain fog, or is that the peri-menopause? For now, my own sleep hack is...the 'nana nap'. Seriously, it's the ultimate re-charge tool & if I had a job in an office, I would take it under my desk if need be. I have mastered it. Timing is key, 20 - 40mins max. A strong coffee right before you snuggle up (don't let the caffeine kick in) & always on the sofa, never in bed. Never after 4pm either & preferably before 3:30pm. In the car, seat rolled back, facing a fence in the school carpark, window open a few inches works too. Set an alarm that you have to get up for to switch off (or wait for your astonished child to tap the window).