Getting to bed is a nightly hurdle for many autistic people. Night transitions involve numerous executive functioning skills. Even more, going from an evening of engaging in hyper-focus and/or special interests to a state of blank relaxation is a transitional mountain to climb!
Sleep problems run rampant in the autism community. While there are numerous factors behind our ability to get to bed, fall asleep, and stay asleep, let’s not forget: Without sleep, our ability to cope throughout the day decreases. Navigating the NT-world is tough enough for people with autism. Try adding sleep-deprived fatigue, brain fog, chronic pain, irritability, and anxiety to our daily social and sensory challenges. People with autism need sleep.
Before and immediately after my diagnosis, I struggled to go to bed. I’d play video games till sunrise because my special interests appealed to me more than the chore of heading to the bathroom and trudging through the steps of nightly care. Plus, once the special interests were put away, I had countless social encounters to anxiously agonize over once my head hit the pillow.
Still, getting to bed is possible for autistic people. Here are a few tips get through a night routine and hit the sack:
1) Start night routines before we are tired. Let’s be real: After dinner, most people are staying in for the night. So jump straight into pajamas, showering, and teeth-brushing. This way, we avoid getting so exhausted that we can’t start our night routine. It’s twice as hard to transition at midnight.
2) Consider clothes. Autistic people tend to get attached to objects. We might grow attached to the clothes we are wearing, especially if an outfit reflects our special interests. By buying pajamas that connect to our special interests, we’ll feel more inclined to exchange day clothes for night clothes.
3) Notice hunger cues. Sleeping on an empty stomach can lead to restlessness and anxiety. If I feel even a little hungry before bed, I eat a snack, followed by a rinse with mouthwash.
4) Switch our bedtime to the same time as our family/housemates. We can use others as an external motivator kickstart night routines and turn out the lights.