Whether it’s finding it difficult to go back to sleep after waking in the night or finding it tricky to get to sleep in the first place, sleep deprivation for people with autism can become a real problem. Even the anxiety around not getting enough sleep is often enough to cause insomnia.
So, what are the 3 main reasons an adult with autism might be struggling to sleep, and what can be done about it?
Too much stimulation in the day, in addition to a busy bedroom environment, can be enough to disrupt sleep in an adult with autism. If personal relaxation techniques aren’t working, it’s time to really assess the sleeping environment. Sounds, light, smells, visual stimulus – think about all human senses and tackle them inside the bedroom.
For example, blocking out light by investing in blackout blinds or heavy curtains could be a good start. If it is difficult to block out noise from neighbours, or other people living in the house, a ‘white noise’ machine could be the answer. Reducing visual stimulus to an absolute minimum is a classic technique to aid sleep and calm a busy mind. Removing pictures and photos from the wall might seem extreme, but it really could help.
Make sure the bed is as comfortable as possible. Specialist companies, such as Reinforced Beds, offer a range of beds for autism, including heavy-duty furniture built especially for challenging environments. Not being able to sleep can be extremely frustrating, but these robust beds and mattresses can withstand much more than the usual wear and tear.
It has been suggested that adults with autism might be over-sensitive to the blue light emitted from screens, such as phones and tablets. This, alongside the general stimulation of scrolling through websites and messages, can cause sleep problems by reducing the body’s level of the sleep hormone, melatonin. The body is tricked into thinking it should be awake when it is really time to rest. Try to avoid using screens for a couple of hours before you go to bed.
This sleep hormone is regulated in the body and lets the brain know when it is time to sleep. This hormone can be disrupted, for example in the case of jetlag. It is also known to sometimes be disrupted in adults living with autism. If lack of sleep is becoming a real issue, it may be time to talk to a doctor.