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Help for Sleep-Deprived Adults with Asperger's and HFA

“I am a 29 year old male with asperger syndrome. I have had trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep most of my life. It’s gotten to the point now where it is affecting my work and my marriage. Any help here is greatly appreciated. Thanks!”

Sleep difficulties are very common in people with Asperger's and High Functioning Autism. If sleep problems are a regular occurrence and interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders cause more than just sleepiness. The lack of quality sleep can have a negative impact on your energy, emotional balance, and health.

Here are some ideas that can help:

1. Avoid evening alcohol consumption. A few hours after drinking, alcohol levels in your blood start to drop, which signals your body to wake up. It takes an average person about an hour to metabolize one drink, so if you have two glasses of wine with dinner, finish your last sip at least 2 hours before bed.

2. Certain smells, such as lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang, activate the alpha wave activity in the back of your brain, which leads to relaxation and helps you sleep more soundly. Mix a few drops of essential oil and water in a spray bottle and give your pillowcase a spritz.

3. Check your meds. Beta-blockers (prescribed for high blood pressure) may cause insomnia …so can SSRIs (a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft). Write down every drug and supplement you take, and have your doctor evaluate how they may be affecting your sleep.

4. Deep breathing helps reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, releases endorphins, and relaxes your body, priming you for sleep. Inhale for 5 seconds, pause for 3, then exhale to a count of 5. Start with 8 repetitions; gradually increase to 15.

5. Don’t sleep with your pet. Cats can be active in the late-night and early morning hours, and dogs may scratch, sniff, and snore you awake. More than half of people who sleep with their pets say the animals disturb their sleep. On the other hand, if your pet is a sound sleeper and snuggling with him is comforting and soothing, let him stay put.

6. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning—even on weekends. A regular sleep routine keeps your biological clock steady so you rest better. Also, exposure to a regular pattern of light and dark helps, so stay in sync by opening the blinds or going outside right after you wake up.

7. If you fall awake but can't fall back to sleep within fifteen minutes, get out of bed. If lying in bed pushes your stress buttons, get up and do something quiet and relaxing (in dim light), such as gentle yoga or massaging your feet until you feel sleepy again.

8. If you're a stomach sleeper, consider using either no pillow or a very flat one to help keep your neck and spine straight.

9. Light is a powerful signal to your brain to be awake. Even the glow from your laptop, iPad, smart phone, or any other electronics on your nightstand may pass through your closed eyelids and retinas into your hypothalamus—the part of your brain that controls sleep. This delays your brain's release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Thus, the darker your room is, the more soundly you'll sleep.

10. Load a familiar audiobook on your iPod at bedtime—one that you know well, so it doesn't engage you but distracts your attention until you drift off to sleep. Relaxing music works well, too.

11. No coffee, tea or cola after 3:00 PM. Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your system for about 8 hours, so if you have a cappuccino after dinner, come bedtime, it'll either prevent your brain from entering deep sleep or stop you from falling asleep altogether.

12. Position your pillow correctly. The perfect prop for your head will keep your spine and neck in a straight line to avoid tension or cramps that can prevent you from falling asleep. If your neck is flexed back or raised, get a pillow that lets you sleep in a better-aligned position.

13. Set your bedroom thermostat between 65° and 70°F, but pay attention to how you actually feel under the covers. Slipping between cool sheets helps trigger a drop in your body temperature. That shift signals the body to produce melatonin, which induces sleep.

14. Sleep is not an on-off switch. It's more like slowly easing your foot off the gas. So give your body time to transition from your active day to bedtime drowsiness by setting a timer for an hour before bed and dividing up the time as follows: (a) first 20 minutes: prep for tomorrow (e.g., pack your bag, set out your clothes); (b) next 20: take care of personal hygiene (e.g., brush your teeth); and (c) last 20: relax in bed, reading with a small, low-wattage book light or practicing deep breathing.

15. Sound machines designed to help you sleep produce a low-level soothing noise. These can help you tune out barking dogs, the TV downstairs, or any other disturbances so you can fall asleep and stay asleep.

16. Take a warm bath or hot shower before going to bed. Both temporarily raise your body temperature, after which it gradually lowers in the cooler air, cueing your body to feel sleepy.

17. The ideal nighttime snack combines carbohydrates and either calcium or a protein that contains the amino acid tryptophan—studies show that both of these combos boost serotonin, a naturally occurring brain chemical that helps you feel calm. Enjoy your snack about an hour before bedtime so that the amino acids have time to reach your brain (e.g., a piece of whole grain toast with a slice of low-fat cheese or turkey, a banana with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter, some whole grain cereal and fat-free milk, or some fruit and low-fat yogurt).

18. The number one sleep complaint I hear from adults with Asperger’s is ‘I can't turn off my mind’. To quiet that wakeful worrying, every night jot down your top concern. Then write down the steps you can take to solve the problem. Once your concerns are converted into some kind of action plan, you'll rest easier.

19. To help you understand how your habits affect your rest, track your sleep every day for at least 2 weeks. Write down not only what's obviously sleep related (e.g., what time you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many times you wake up during the night, how you feel in the morning, etc.), but also factors like what you ate close to bedtime and what exercise you got. Comparing your daily activities with your nightly sleep patterns can show you where you need to make changes.

20. Try to quit smoking if you smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant, so it prevents you from falling asleep. Plus, many smokers experience withdrawal pangs at night. Smokers are 4 times more likely not to feel as well rested after a night's sleep than nonsmokers, studies show, and smoking exacerbates sleep apnea and other breathing disorders, which can also stop you from getting a good night's rest.

21. Working out—especially cardio—improves the length and quality of your sleep. 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise keeps your body temperature elevated for about 4 hours, inhibiting sleep. When your body begins to cool down, however, it signals your brain to release sleep-inducing melatonin, so then you'll get drowsy. Don’t exercise right before bedtime though.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples


  • Jen... This issue has gotten worse for me as I got older. I fall asleep easily usually, as I am hypersomnolent. However, I have trouble staying asleep. I eventually started taking trazadone. It helps keep me asleep. Not perfectly, but it does help a lot. I also go to bed earlier, so all of the sleep added together is sufficient. There are heart watches that have sleep tracking also. It might be helpful to monitor how well you are doing with different approaches. Good luck! Jen
  • Kirsty... My son has Aspergers and PLM and RL. He has never slept normally although went from waking up 16 times a night to waking up 5 times a night and now only partially wakes 5 times during the night. I just found out that he has to share a room with 10 other boys for school camp. It is upsetting to realise that this is going to be an issue for him forever. Thanks for the tips. I guess he will never sleep in Youth Hostels when he gets older.
  • Kallya... Ok I will literally start awake for hours on end thinking of thing like, how would I survive in thrown back 20000 years in time. So yeah the i can't sleep so now my mind is running in weird circles, so I can't sleep cycle. Meditation seems to only make it worse. But something that does seem to help is an app call "mysleepbutton" stupid easy thing. It says some random word. You focus and picture to word in as much detail but before your brain takes off on some weird tangent the app says another unrelated random word and refocus on that word. I find with in 15 minutes in will fall asleep. And it works just as well if i wake up in the middle of the night.

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