Autism & Insomnia – Why do Some Autistic People Struggle with Sleep?

Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that many Autistic children and adults struggle with sleep problems. This can be hard for parents, who need sleep but have children who seem to be filled with infinite energy, and may not sleep through the night.

Autistic children & young people suffer from sleep problems, particularly insomnia, at a higher rate than non-Autistic children, ranging from 40% to 80%.

Transcript:

“My Autistic kid doesn’t sleep, has trouble going to bed at night, and/or getting up in the morning. What do I do?”

[00:00:09] NeuroRebel here, and this week, I’m sharing my experience as an Autistic adult. Want to learn more.  Stay tuned.

[00:00:51] Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that many Autistic children and adults struggle with sleep problems. This can be hard for parents who need sleep, but have children who seem to have infinite energy and may not sleep through the night.

[00:01:12] According to one study, Autistic children and young people are more likely to suffer, sleep problems, particularly insomnia, at a higher rate than not their non-autistic peers ranging from 40 to 80%.

[00:01:23] I’ll  link that study in the blog post at Neurodivergent Rebel dot com when this video is released to the general public.

[00:01:31] Let’s take a minute to talk about why getting sleep is so important for Autistic people and for all people.

[00:01:41] According to the sleep foundation dot org:

[00:01:44] “Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and starved off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to concentrate think clearly and process memories.”

[00:02:07] That’s not good.

[00:02:08] “Additionally, lack of  sleep has been linked to higher risk for certain diseases and medical conditions that include  type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health and early death” – End quote.

[00:02:26] With Autistic people, specifically sleep is especially important.  Especially for those of us who have co-occurring health conditions that can be exacerbated by lack of sleep and rest such as seizures, migraines, and sensory overloads.

[00:02:46] So let’s talk about some of the difficulties that Autistic people can have with sleep. Well, one, it can take longer for an Autistic person to fall asleep and though this is not true for all Autistic people, this is definitely true for me.

[00:03:02] I feel like it’s always been hard for me to fall asleep. So anxiety, which is unfortunately very common in Autistic people doesn’t help this.

[00:03:14] Nighttime seems to be this time when all of the problems and worries of the world seem to come alive and it can be very difficult in the evening to turn off that anxious mind.

[00:03:28] Then, like with many things, transitions are hard and I struggle to transition my mind that has been very active all day to a resting state and then I struggle again when it’s time to transition back from being asleep, to being awake.

[00:03:52] I don’t wake up with all of my senses about me often in the mornings when I am still tired or half asleep, my sensory processing feels very out of whack and what I mean by that is the lights are too bright, the sounds are too loud, and my ability to sense my hands, arms and feet appropriately can be distorted.

[00:04:17] So if I’ve ever been. Clumsy and grumpy in the mornings in front of you humans somewhere in the world. I apologize because it was not my intent. It just takes me a while to get going in the  morning.

[00:04:32] Many autistic people, myself included, wake up frequently throughout the night. I am a very light sleeper and little things will wake me up.

[00:04:45] Another study has suggested that, for Autistic people, sleep may also be less restorative than it is for the rest of the general population. This study suggests that Autistic people spend only about 15% of our sleeping time in rapid eye movement or REM stage sleep, which is a stage in sleep that is critical for learning and retaining memories.

[00:05:10] And I would say this isn’t far off if I compare the data to my own sleep app that I have on my smartphone, it says that I spend about 13% of my sleep in REM sleep, according to my personal sleep tracker.

[00:05:25]According to this study, it said that most neuro-typical people spend about 23% of their nightly sleep in REM sleep.

[00:05:33] I also tend to spend about 48% of my sleep and light sleep and only 33% of my time in deep sleep. According to my sleep tracker.

[00:05:41] I’d be really curious. To see how these numbers compare to neuro-typical people to see if they get more deep sleep than I do, but  that wasn’t compared in the study, I’ll link that study as well on neurodivergent rebel dot com with the transcript for this video.

[00:05:56] Okay, so we know that insomnia and other sleep issues are common for Autistic people. Now, what?

[00:06:04] Well, I was in my late twenties the first time I ever remember experiencing my first good night sleep and I wasn’t even sure it was possible for me until it happened one day and I still have trouble sleeping from time to time even now.

[00:06:25]There have been some general rules that I do follow to ensure I get a good night’s sleep and to make getting a good night’s sleep more likely. One of those things would be to set a sleep schedule. I know I need at least eight hours of sleep to be at my best and I go to sleep at roughly the same time and I get up at roughly the same time every morning and, yes, there are exceptions to the rules  for special occasions and on a weekend here and there, but I do take my sleep schedule very seriously.

[00:07:06] I know that if I’m up late one day, I’m going to need to rest and recover soon to fix that depleted energy that I didn’t recover the night before when I didn’t get enough sleep.

[00:07:19] Another thing that’s been very important for me is that I don’t nap and, yes, I’m going to admit naps are wonderful. I love naps as much as the next person, but, for me, napping is counter productive to my sleep health.

[00:07:37] I find that I am likely to sleep better and more likely to sleep through the night and be in bed at the correct time if I don’t take a nap during the day. If I am tired, it is much easier for me to fall asleep versus if I am well rested and I have just taken a nap – because I have trouble falling asleep, as I mentioned earlier.

[00:08:03] Be careful with caffeine. I’ve found that substances like caffeine, drugs, and medications don’t seem to work for me in the same ways that they tend to work for most neurotypical people.

[00:08:16] I love a good cup of coffee, and I actually used to drink a pot or two of coffee a day back when I was working in retail.

[00:08:28] Since those days, I learned that I have a few health conditions that can be aggravated by excessive caffeine intake. One of those being my anxiety, another being my sleep cycle. And I actually didn’t understand how much of an impact caffeine had on me until I started limiting my use of it.

[00:08:51] Before I would get so amped and shaky to the point where I was even having heart palpitations. Now I have no more than two caffeinated drinks in a day and never late in the afternoon to avoid interrupting my sleep cycle.

[00:09:12] Another thing I learned about myself later in life is how much lighting matters to me. I am someone who is very sensitive to artificial lighting, blue lighting specifically. 

[00:09:27] We’re really only starting to learn about the potential adverse health effects of blue lighting but, according to Harvard Health:

[00:09:37] “Daylight keeps a person’s internal clock aligned with the environment, exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that  influences circadian rhythms. Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion.

[00:09:54]Light of any kind  can suppress the secretion, but blue light, especially at night, does so more powerfully” – end quote.

[00:10:05] During the day being energized by blue light might not be a bad thing, but in the evenings, as we try to wind down, and the sun should lower in the sky, the color of the lighting that we would be exposed to changes, and that sends signals to our brain to count down, to sleep time and I seem to be more sensitive to this than other people.

[00:10:33] Since I am someone who’s sensitive to this blue light. I have to protect myself from blue light, especially outside of daylight hours but even during daylight hours, I have to kind of limit my exposure to artificial lighting otherwise it aggravates my senses.

[00:10:50] I have to limit fluorescent lighting, especially, because it triggers sensory overload, migraines, and other neurological problems for me.

[00:10:58] This is one type of blue light that I avoid by using colored blue light blocking glasses and hats when I do have to expose myself to this type of lighting that is not great at all for me.

[00:11:14] Actually, this light here that I’m recording on in my face right now to light myself up is really bothering me already and I can’t wait to get done with the video so I can turn it off because my eyes are stinging right now. It hurts, but on we go. Onward and upward.

[00:11:33]I avoid looking at bright screens and I  try to be very mindful, especially when it’s getting closer to bedtime of blue light, because that blue light can also come from your laptop and your phone screen.

[00:11:50]There are applications that you can actually get for your smartphone and laptop  to control that blue light exposure throughout your day . In MacBooks and iPhones, they have the feature built right in, but the applications you can download – F.Lux and RedShift are two I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve used in the past.

[00:12:10] I also tend to keep my phone brightness on low because that bright light just stings my eyes. Just like this light stand is doing to me right now. It is unpleasant.

[00:12:20] I try to avoid using bright or blueish lights in the evening, around the home at all, if possible  and I will opt for softer dimmer  warmer lights  in the evening hours as I’m trying to wind down. So like I’ve got these little lights up here, which are a nice, warmer, red color that I use in the evening, especially.  I try not to turn a bright blue, white fluorescent lights on, unless I really need to see the floor maybe to vacuum or do some cleaning  but even then I avoid turning those lights on because they bother me so much.

[00:12:58]If you are a night shift person it’s likely you’re going to be around artificial lighting at night and so consider wearing blue blocking glasses or maybe installing apps and filters for your phones that are outside of the blue, green color spectrum to help  protect yourself from this if you are someone who finds that you are sensitive to blue, green lighting and artificial lighting as well.

[00:13:28]This won’t be everyone everybody’s different. Some people are going to say, Oh, I love the blue lighting. It energizes me and it’s wonderful but for me, it is just completely overwhelming.

[00:13:40] In my case, I feel as if my lighting sensitivity is definitely tied to my insomnia. These two things seem to be related.

[00:13:50] Let me know in the comments below, if you struggle and are neurodivergent to get to sleep, to stay asleep, to fall asleep, to sleep, to get a restful sleep.

[00:14:02] Drop me a comment. Let me know how your experience with sleep is below.

[00:14:05] Do any of you also have lighting sensitivities? Do you think that relates to or impacts your sleep troubles? If you have those as well.

[00:14:15] Let me know. Let’s start a conversation because  like I said, over and over again and I say in every episode “I am just one Autistic person and this is not going to be every Autistic person’s experience, but I hope that my experience will be helpful and useful to some of you.”

[00:14:31] If you have a suggestion for a future NeuroRebel video, drop me a comment below. I always want to make sure I am creating content that is useful and helpful to you so I’d love to know what it is that you actually want to learn about.

[00:14:43] All right, everyone. Thank you so much for hanging out with me this week. If you found this video helpful educational or in any way useful, don’t forget to subscribe and turn on notifications because I do put out new videos every Wednesday.

[00:14:59] And if you found this video helpful share, because hopefully someone else will find it helpful too.

[00:15:04] A very huge and special. Thank you to my Facebook subscribers and Patreon supporters. I could not do it without you. Thank you so much for your support and really a thank you to everyone who comes back here and supports the content I create and shares my content. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you all. Have a great rest of your week and I will see you next Wednesday.

[00:15:35] Bye!

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3 thoughts on “Autism & Insomnia – Why do Some Autistic People Struggle with Sleep?

  1. I’ve had insomnia in bouts here and there, but mostly just as an adult. When I was younger I felt I could never get enough sleep, though. I wanted so badly to get to sleep in on weekends as a teenager, but 9am was as late as I was allowed, at which point my father would wake me up by playing revelry on his guitar or wake me up in some other similar fashion. Despite a really bad bout of insomnia from around the age of 20 to about 26, until I was 30 I never felt that 8 hours was enough sleep. But something changed not long after my 30th birthday, and suddenly I felt rested with less than 8 hours of sleep. I have no idea what caused this change. I’ve more recently had more insomnia due to relatively recent traumatic experiences, and its gotten really bad, plus I have a tendency to pass out when experiencing certain types of stress, so there’s been a lot of sleepless nights followed by passing out for 14 hours and waking up with everything hurting because I passed out in an awkward position. Hopefully this will pass as I recover from the trauma and reduce the stress in my life, because it’s been rather excruciating.

  2. I will be very interested to learn about the sleep issues of other autistic people. Ben is 12 years old now and has had sleep problems since he was a baby. There are some nights that he does not sleep at all, and it’s so hard for him. It makes his processing delays more pronounced and generally affects everything.

    Thank you for bringing this topic up!

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