Suggestions for Improving Sleep

I was at an autism support meeting a few months ago and there was a question about ideas for getting autistic children to sleep. I have my own problems with insomnia and I have gradually built up some techniques I use to improve my sleep. They don’t always work, but perhaps something might help others.

Reducing blue light from electronics – It has been found that when people view blue light in the evening, it can cause problems with sleeping. Many devices, such as computer monitors, tablets and smart phones, emit blue light, which means that using them in the evening can make it harder to sleep. I have installed software on my desktop computer which gradually dims the blue light in the evenings to a softer color. I noticed a difference when I started using the software, I found it easier to fall asleep. The software is free and it is called f.lux. There are versions available for Windows, Mac, iPads and iPhones and Android phones. The website https://justgetflux.com/ is where you can download the software.The software reads the clock on your computer  and automatically adjust the light emitted on your computer.

Reducing light in bedrooms - I have found that any light in a room can make it difficult to get to sleep. Light in the room also wakes me more often at night. This may seem obvious, but I did not notice for years the light from digital clocks, night-lights, and light from under a closed door.  I discovered this when we moved and I could not find my alarm clock for a few days. I slept very well until I found my alarm clock and set it up. I started waking up more frequently at night, even though I was still very tired from moving activities. I started covering up the display and woke up less frequently.

Noise - Since I have sensitive hearing, I can end up waking up at night if I hear the slightest noise. Over the years I have used fans, window air conditions and a humidifier to cover unexpected noises at night.  There are white noise devices available if you don't want to use a fan but the noise needs to blend in and cover other sounds. Leaving a television or radio on might lead to changes in volume that wake a person up. There are websites that play white noise, such as http://asoftmurmur.com/. However, if the device playing the website emits light, that can cause problems too.

Temperature - This affects my son and I, and I feel like one of the three bears if the temperature is too cold or too hot. For us, too warm tends to be over 65-69 degrees Fahrenheit at night in the house. My son tends to stay up later when it’s too warm too sleep. If I didn’t have to get up for work, I would probably do the same. If the temperature is too cold, below 65 degrees in the house, I get aches in my joints if the temperature.  In our old house, we all had window air conditioners but with central air in our new house, things are a little trickier. In addition, we can have some extreme heat spells where it doesn’t cool down at night so we run the AC.  Fortunately, solar panels now help with our electric bill. The peace at night is worth the cost.

Weighted blankets - My son and I both like lots of blankets and curling up underneath, even when it is hot. When I read about weighted blankets I recognized that my son and I are trying to recreate that effect. I like to feel the weight and its one of the things I enjoy about winter, having extra blankets on the bed. I have seen weighted blankets for sale, I have not tried any so I don’t have any recommendations on a brand.

Exercise - Vigorous exercise during the day can help with sleeping and running off nervous energy. My son used to run up and down in our yard as part of our stimming and he slept pretty well at night. When he got older, I tried to stop him doing this and I realize now he started having sleep problems then. I now tell him to feel free to run up and down our yard, which he does. He also seems to be sleeping better at night. I am also exercising more and I have noticed that I sleep more solidly although I still wake up once or twice at night.

Full Moons - I have noticed that my son and I have more difficulty with sleeping during the week before a full moon. I will usually have at least one night during the week of a full moon where my son and I wake up often. I recommend getting thick curtains or blackout blinds to help in blocking out the light. However, even with thick curtains, I still have one night where I have problems sleeping.

Sleeping twice - There is some historical evidence that people did not always try to sleep in one 8 hour chunk but split it into two four hour chunks. When a person work after 4 hours of sleep they would sit up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and do things like read, write or other activities. For our ancestors who probably went to bed after dark, this wasn’t a problem, but in our clock focused culture, it can be an issue. Just be aware, that this might be a normal sleep pattern as described in the article at this link. http://slumberwise.com/science/your-ancestors-didnt-sleep-like-you/

Photos by J.T. Harpster

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