Sleeping babies, in my humble opinion, are designed to be so cute that we adults will work hard not to disturb them. Peaceful sleep – sleep that they obviously need, and that is clearly helping them digest and feed the inner workings of their newly developing bodies — is critical for young life. We used to put our kids in their car seats and drive them around to pacify them enough to go to sleep, and then we didn’t want to move them. The Mini would not have worked in this scenario; the manual gears and “fun” suspension doesn’t lull anyone; it’s too exciting of a drive!
What about this older body that I carry around? Not as cute, definitely not as peaceful of a sleeper.
I knew about my sleep disorders for years before I had an ASD diagnosis. Years of sleep studies, trying a few meds, on and off CPAP, and even a throat surgery…and I still don’t have the perfect formula of how to get the best sleep. If I follow the regimented sleep schedule that most experts recommend, I start waking up earlier, and then experiencing more of the struggles that come with missed sleep.
One of my sleep studies showed some interesting footage. I thought the doctor was showing me a horror movie. There I am — lying on my back — and suddenly my left arm starts rising like an orchestra conductor in slow motion. But instead of some rhythmic dance, it just swings to the left a little, and then back into place. Freaky – both to see on film, and to know that’s happening to me. Often. Regularly. Meds didn’t really make a dent in that occasional motion at night.
I am fortunate right now that CPAP helps, even though my maladies are more central nervous system related than obstructive. I have also tried an audio file that stimulates delta brain waves; it has helped some, too. When these therapies, and essential oils, and not eating within 2-3 hours before bedtime aren’t working, I get up and try to quietly occupy myself. Reading the paper or a good book will keep me from boredom, and from waking others in my home. Sometimes I sink down the slippery slope of scrolling on my phone. I do have a phone setting that keeps things in grayscale until my waking alarm. This way the light is not as stimulating to these sensitive brain waves.
I’ll be up at 3 or 4…when I wanted to sleep until 5. Some of this problem may be due to my age, and stress could factor in. How much is due to autism? That’s a tough call. There are lots of studies about autism and sleep disorders, but I don’t think we know exact causes, only correlation.
Before I knew I was on the spectrum, I was looking for solutions. Now, I’m open to suggestions of anything that helps a little; it doesn’t have to SOLVE my sleep problems for me to want to try it. I’ve tried better sleep hygiene. Screen time limitations before bed. Sleep masks to keep the light out. Staying up later to try to sleep later. No caffeine. Lots of caffeine. No dairy. Dairy before bed. Dairy when I wake up in the middle of the night. It can get burdensome.
One week at the beach a few years ago, my wife noticed that I had slept like a baby all week. Was it salt air? Feet in the sand for hours a day (See my post “Vacay Every Day”)? Unplugging from the workaday world long enough to relax? All these may be clues to my sleep. One practitioner I recently heard from in a health podcast drew a connection between insomnia and heavy metals, like mercury. He talked about saunas and sweating, like we do at the beach, as helpful for processing metals out of our systems. I need to find out more about that.
On the relaxing issue, I need to be more disciplined in a meditative practice, maybe even visualizing the beach or the mountains for a few moments. I had gotten up to ten minutes of deep breathing and quieting my mind daily, but other stressors squeezed that practice out of its regimen. I’ve also heard more about avoiding WiFi signals – especially at night – almost an impossibility in some settings of our modern life.
My current nighttime practice: I’m using a cedarwood essential oil “rollerball” on my stomach at night. Then I loosely strap my left arm, so it won’t swing and assault my precious bride while I’m asleep. CPAP, sleep mask, and hit the sack. And I’m staying up later (but does it count if I’m falling asleep in the chair in front of the TV before going to bed?). I’ve been able to sleep until 4:30 or 5 am this way recently.
This is an area of my life that seems like a small but deep engine oil leak. Occasionally I must stop, rest, get more sleep, try something different, or the road gets rough. If you’ve read this far hoping for a solution, sorry. I’m still searching. Sweet sleep often eludes me, and on those rare days when I get it, I try to observe “the baby” and see what I did differently to make that happen. Maybe I need to camp out at the beach more often. That would be a great shift! Let me know if you have had success in improving your sleep; I’d love to hear about it.