My whole life I have had restless sleep. Most days I wake feeling more exhausted than before I went to sleep. I have vivid nightmares that are a swirl of sound and color. A result of everything my mind is processing and working out from the day’s sensory onslaught. I get no relief. I am bombarded in both my waking and sleeping hours. I have trouble falling asleep because of these intense dreams and because of my mind going in constant circles, worrying about everything it cannot control. I cannot recall many dreamless, restful sleeps in my life. I also do not see faces in my dreams, just as I do not really fully see them when I am awake. People are a rarity in my dream, rather it is an overload of sensory that I cannot escape. This reality makes it harder for me when I am awake because I am never well rested. Which, in turn creates difficulty in my daily living.
As an adult I knew something had to change. I had to find a way to get some form of better sleep. I have spent the past year focusing in on this goal. These are the strategies I have found. I want to share them because I know falling asleep and staying asleep is a common struggle for those of us on the autism spectrum. In the below video I outline my tips for better sleep. I hope these ideas can be helpful to you as well!
Clutter of any kind takes a toll on our sensory. Think about it; we have just spent all day dealing with the overload we experience in the outside world. It is important to be able to come home and have a place to rest our eyes. Whether we realize it or not, small clutter in our bedrooms makes it difficult to sleep because our minds are cluttered as well when it absorbs the clutter around it. Take just 10-15 minutes per day in your routine to declutter. Put things back in the room they belong, fold laundry, wipe surfaces. These small acts only take 10-15 minutes and make a huge difference in the space over time. It also prevents a huge mess from building. Mess attracts mess. The cleaner your space is, the less likely you will be to add more clutter to an area.
2. Create a sensory oasis
Make the space where you sleep a calming experience. Now that it is decluttered, fill it with things that rejuvenate you and help you relax. For me, I also do not do any work or homework in the same place I sleep. I want my mind to only associate my bedroom with sleep and relaxation so that when it is time to sleep, my brain is more willing to switch off. I have filled my bedroom with items such as salt rocks. diffusers, and LED lights. This allows me to never have overhead fluorescent lights on, which are too harsh for me. The calming smells and warm glows allow me to enter a calmer state. I also ensure to unplug all electronics at night. This helps me stay asleep because I am not hearing the dirty energy or noise they emit.
3. Create a Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines are just as beneficial to adults as they are for children! As soon as I started a bedtime routine that a stuck to, I fell asleep much more easily. This is because it is a signal to my mind that it is time to shut down for the night. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help build this signal. I find now that as a brush my teeth, wash my face, etc. I begin to feel sleepier even before I hit the bed! Do not complete your bedtime routine and then wake your mind back up by watching a movie or starting a book. This will make it harder to fall asleep and undo the effects of the bedtime routine. Instead, do these type of activities as you wind down, before your final bedtime routine. When you are ready for sleep, that is the time to do the routine, so that your mind always associates it with sleep. Additionally, I try to go to bed around the same time every night to help my brain start to naturally shut down earlier. To keep my mind from circling, I keep a worry journal on my nightstand. If I cannot fall asleep because I am obsessing or worrying about something, I write it down on the notepad. This helps my mind to stop circling about it because the act of writing it down allows the mind to let it go. Tricking it into letting it go by letting it know it is recorded and it will remember it later if needed. The action of writing helps to show the mind you are taking active steps to solving what it is worried about and it is now okay to shut down for the night.
I have found that these strategies have significantly changed my sleep for the better. I am now able to fall asleep much more easily, and my dreams are not quite as bad.
Let me know how you get better sleep! What do you do to unwind from the day?
Remember, we are all different so you can tailor these ideas to fit how your mind best unwinds. I also find it very helpful to do a physical activity every day, whether that’s yoga, a run, or just a walk. It helps me to relax more during the night and feel more ready to go to sleep. These are starter ideas and can be built upon to create a more balanced life. I hope these are helpful and I look forward to hearing how they work for you!