A study by the UC Davis Mind Institute found that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) woke up in the middle of the night way more than typically developing kids regardless of their cognitive ability (Krakowiak P, Goodlin-Jones B, Hertz-Picciotto I, Croen LA, Hansen RL).
At one point I figured I had not slept through the night in over five years. When my son started sleeping through the night I still couldn't. It was like my body had become hyper vigilant. I could wake up at the slightest sound. For several years I would wake up and do work, think, or read. I started to rationalize this behavior as my alone time. My time to be productive. However, the truth was my poor sleep was escalating my depression and making it difficult for me to be productive during the day.
So with the encouragement of a therapist I began a journey to learn to sleep again. I began by exercising good sleep hygiene:
- I started to go to bed at the same time every night.
- I stopped drinking caffeine after lunch.
- I started to read before I went to sleep. Did you know most people only need to read for about 15 minutes and then they fall asleep? However, TV can actually keep you awake. The theory is the lights from the TV actually stimulates your brain.
- I made sure to have dinner at a regular time well before I went to sleep (around 6:00).
- I made sure the bedroom temperature felt comfortable.
- To help keep the noise level low I started sleeping with a fan. At first this made me uncomfortable. I thought what if my son did get up I couldn't hear him? So I bought a baby monitor and set the volume on high. If my son did get up I would hear him over the white noise.
- Some nights I couldn't stop thinking about things. I would work out problems in my head, make lists and think of them over and over again. I started keeping a small notepad by my bed. When my thoughts were keeping me awake, I would write them down. This helped me to relax and go to sleep.
- I also had to stop taking naps during the day.