How to Fall Asleep if You're Autistic

Three Methods:Before BedtimeBedtime EnvironmentRoutines and Lifestyle

Sleeping difficulties often accompany autism.[1] If you're one of these people, don't worry—there are techniques you can use to help you fall asleep. This article is written for autistic people, but it may also be useful to parents of autistic children, people with other disabilities, or non-disabled people.

Method 1
Before Bedtime

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    Get exercise during the day. This will help you feel tired by the end of the night. Take a walk, ride your bike, hike on a hiking trail, or explore the neighborhood.
    • Even leaving the house can help you feel sleepier at night. Try running errands, hanging out with friends, visiting the library, or exploring local attractions.
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    Start doing quiet activities to relax. Chat with a family member, crochet, draw a picture, eat a snack, read a library book, listen to soft music, snuggle, or do something else that you enjoy.
    • Special interests can be relaxing,[2] but also may make it hard to stop. Consider using a timer to remind you to go to bed, or having a family member tell you. Find what works best for you.
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    Turn off screens at least 30 minutes from your bedtime. The bright lights (especially bluish lights) from a computer screen can trick your brain into thinking that it's still daytime.[3]
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    Pick sensory tools that help with relaxation. Swings, sweet-smelling soaps, and other tools can help you unwind.
    • Get deep pressure with a weighted blanket, tight clothes, a bear hug, or a massage. Offer to exchange back rubs with someone in your household.
    • To feel heat, drink hot chocolate, wear warm clothes, snuggle with someone, or take a hot bath/shower.
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    Stim as much as you need to. Stimming is a natural and healthy action that helps you feel balanced. At bedtime, you may use it for self-calming, or to release pent-up energy.
    • Rocking, echolalia, squeezing, and humming are examples of stims that can calm you down and prepare you for a good night's sleep.

Method 2
Bedtime Environment

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    Create a peaceful atmosphere. Darken your room as much as possible, and turn on some quiet music or a CD with calming nature sounds. This will help tell your brain that it is nighttime, and it's time to go to sleep.
    • If total darkness bothers you, get a night light, so that you can see if you wake up in the middle of the night.
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    Keep things quiet. Some autistic people have trouble sleeping due to sensory processing issues. Here are ways you can minimize noise:
    • Play white noise. You can find an app for your phone or computer for free.
    • Wear earplugs to bed. Within a few days, you should be used to having earplugs in your ears.
    • Stuff a piece of cloth underneath the door. Try a rug, blanket, or towel.
    • If noise comes from the other side of a wall, place a body pillow between the wall and your head. This will block some sound.
    • As a last resort, wear earmuffs to bed. These will make you sweaty, but will block sound.
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    Surround yourself with comfortable textures. Wear comfy pajamas,[4] use sheets that don't feel bumpy or stiff, and place soft pillows on your bed.
    • If you dislike the feeling of pajama legs shifting up your leg, try wearing thick socks to bed. During winter, many general stores sell fuzzy socks.
    • Cut the tags off of your pajamas and stuffed animals.
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    Keep a notepad next to your bed. If your mind wanders to worries or creative thoughts, you can use the notebook to record them. Write down any important thoughts, so that you can stop worrying about them and relax.
    • When worrying, ask yourself: "What can I do about this tonight?" Answer honestly. Your answer may be "stop worrying about it and get a good sleep." If this is the case, then stop ruminating on it and focus on something else.
    • Imagine relaxing things: nature, your favorite location, or your loved ones. Think about all the aspects of them that you love.
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    Consider how you'll handle the need to stim in bed. If you tend to lie awake for a while, you may get the urge to stim.
    • For wandering hands, try placing a textured thing on your bed. For example, wrap a rubber snake around the railing and feel its mouth and tail when you want to touch things.
    • If you rock or shake in bed, try buying a stuffed animal that vibrates. Holding it will allow you to feel input, without requiring movement, so it won't hinder your ability to fall asleep.
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    Don't play on a phone or computer while trying to fall asleep.[5] The bluish light from the screen will make you feel less tired, and the distractions of the internet can keep you up later than you intended. Instead, keep books at your bedside. Try peaceful stories or nonfiction that will help you fall asleep faster.

Method 3
Routines and Lifestyle

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    Take steps to reduce stress in your life. Stress can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
    • Spend time with loved ones in quiet, peaceful environments.
    • Set aside time to enjoy your special interests. Your special interests matter, and engaging with them will help your mental health.
    • Think about whether you're pushing yourself too hard, or worrying too much. Listen to your self talk and seek to improve your self-esteem.
    • Allow yourself to be autistic in public.[6] Excessive self-monitoring will take away energy from other, more important things.[7][8] Being visibly autistic can be frightening, but it's also freeing.[9]
    • Consult a doctor or therapist if your worries are significantly interfering with your sleep.
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    Come up with a routine to follow before bedtime every night. When you start following the routine, it will signal that it's time to wind down for the evening and prepare to go to sleep.
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    Use the quiet time in bed as an opportunity to practice relaxation exercises. This will help you become good at the exercises for daytime use, and make you feel tired at night.
    • Practice progressive relaxation in bed.
    • Take deep breaths, originating from your belly. Listen to your breathing and imagine that it is the sound of ocean waves crashing over your body and receding.
    • Imagine that you are in one of your favorite places. Think about what you see, what you hear, smell, touch, etc. Imagine it in great detail.
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    Go to bed around the same time every night, and set your alarm clock for the same time in the morning. Getting a consistent sleep schedule will help your body fall into a natural routine.

Tips

  • If you use lots of sound-blocking techniques, you may not be able to hear a regular alarm clock. Try placing a vibrating alarm clock in a pajama pocket, pillowcase, or the side of a tube sock.
  • Modify the room temperature as needed. If you tend to get hot at night, have the air conditioning start running 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Consult your doctor if you have long-lasting sleeping problems. You may have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, anxiety, or another problem.[10]

Article Info

Categories: Autism Spectrum | Better Sleeping