Most of us encounter difficulty sleeping every now and then. However, if you regularly have problems sleeping at night or wake up feeling exhausted, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Sleep problems for autistic adults can be especially common. In this article by Reese Jones, we share some practical strategies on how to improve your sleep.
- Learn how sleep disorders can impact your work and personal life.
- Understand how sleep disorders are heightened by autism.
- Learn practical strategies for dealing with sleep disorders
Most of us encounter difficulty sleeping every now and then, usually due to stress, illness, or interruptions to our routine. However, if you regularly have problems sleeping at night or wake up still feeling exhausted, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that affect the quality, timing, and amount of sleep you get. These disorders often occur along with other medical conditions and mental health issues. While there are different types of sleep disorders, the most common is insomnia.
In 2019, a study by Sleep Health Foundation revealed that more than over half of adult Australians experience at least one chronic sleep symptom, including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or going back to sleep after waking too early. In addition, 14.8% have symptoms that could lead to a clinical insomnia diagnosis.
How Sleep Disorders Impact Life and Work
Sleep deprivation has proven effects on bodily processes and day-to-day activities. Physically, chronic sleep loss can lead to dull skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. It can also put you at risk for disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Moreover, it can weaken your attention, alertness, concentration, and problem-solving processes.
These health effects can seep into every aspect of your life, including work, but sleep disorders can also directly harm your job performance. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC) a lack of sleep can have the same effect as being drunk: your memory declines, your judgement is blurred, and your stress levels rise higher more easily. This can significantly impact how you do your work, since when your thinking is impaired your physical reactions are also slowed down.
This can lead to making more errors and taking more time to accomplish tasks. Lack of sleep can also leave you more irritable, angry, and stressed, physically and emotionally draining you in the process.
A Problem Compounded By Autism
The problems concerning sleep disorders are heightened by yet another condition, autism. While advocates like Greta Thunberg are right to say that autism can be a superpower, it also has its own disadvantages. In fact, a 2018 report by the National Autistic Society, revealed that over 70% of autistic adults experience difficulty falling or staying asleep.
The cause of sleep disorders in autistic people may vary. Many of them have other existing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety, while some may also have sensory sensitivities to sound, light, or touch. Some might be taking medication that causes sleep difficulties.
How to Deal with Sleep Problems for Autistic Adults
The good news is that there are ways to alleviate the issue. Healthdirect notes several ways on handling insomnia.
First is having a regular sleep routine. Train your body to go to bed and wake up at a consistent time.
Next is avoiding daytime naps. While it is tempting to catch up on missed sleep, napping can affect the quality of your nighttime sleep.
Third is limiting activities before bedtime. Avoid using gadgets an hour before going to sleep, as it increases your alertness. Also, do not eat or drink right before going to bed because this activates your digestive system and can lead to heartburn or frequent visits to the bathroom. In addition, relax before drifting off. You can try doing a series of slow, steady breathing exercises or a body scan meditation session.
Lastly, if these sleep strategies aren’t effective, it may be worth trying cognitive behavioural therapy. It can help you identify and correct thoughts, beliefs, and practices contributing to sleep deprivation.
Sleep disorders can easily affect lives. It can interfere with health, wellness, performance, and even success. Do not wait for this condition to take over and negatively contribute to your entire being. Once you understand what you are going through and how autism is playing a role in the quality of your sleep, you are now open to a variety of options that can help you combat your situation. Take action now to get the sleep and peace your body deserves.
If you are autistic and experience sleep challenges, we recommend applying for work through Xceptional. See our current vacancies here: https://xceptional.io/current-vacancies/
Our employer partners are trained on how to provide an appropriate work environment for autistic people. This includes an understanding that some autistic people also have sleep disorders, and practical strategies for how to be inclusive.
You may also enjoy the following
- Sleep – a guide for autistic adults – https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/physical-health/sleep/autistic-adults
- Workplace social skills: Challenging the narrative for Autistic people – https://xceptional.io/employees/workplace-social-skills-challenging-narrative-autistic-people/
- Unexpected benefit: How this Autistic professional has thrived working from home – https://xceptional.io/employees/unexpected-benefit-autistic-professional-thrived-working-home/