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Sleeplessness and Achieving Mental "Quiet"

Sleeplessness used to be the bane of my existence. People apparently need more than four hours of quality sleep per night but somehow my aspie brain didn't seem to care.

These days, the problem is mostly "licked". I usually feel tired enough to go to bed somewhere between 11 and 12pm and I wake for work at around 5.15am. I get around 5 and a half hours sleep per night. I'm still tired but it's a good deal better than my previous average of 3-4 hours sleep.

It's the pressures of work and family that get me exhausted enough to get my 5 hours per night. I thought I was "cured" but after being on holidays this week, I know that I'm not.

I've just had three days holiday without the kids. Its the first time since they were born (9 years ago) that my wife and I have had more than one night without them. Furthermore, there was no computer, just the blackberry and no calls from work - although admittedly, I did work through a few emails.

On the first day, we arrived in the afternoon and I fell asleep almost as soon as we arrived. I don't know why I was tired - I wasn't driving. We stayed up to about midnight but slept in until almost 10am. Night 2 was considerably shorter but still appreciable.

Night 3 (last night) was abysmal. I didn't get to sleep until after 1 - and it was fitful with my mind chattering ceaselessly. I awoke several times during the night finally giving up completely at around 4.30 am.

What's strange is that when the artificial tiredness generated by work, family, scouts and general computing etc is gone, my mind can't sleep. My coffee intake is significantly reduced while on holidays but sleep still eludes me.

My brain needs to constantly churn over and arrange facts. It pulls these from my everyday life, from things I see and read and from various ideas that I come into contact with.

Strangely, last night my mind spent ages mulling over the imagery in the film "dumplings" by Fruit Chan. It's a film I've only seen once - and probably more than a year ago. It's not even an English-language film. I'd been reading a book which made a passing mention of it - and the mere mention caused me to lose most of the night's sleep.

Films are a special interest of mine. They're great to think about but sometimes I wish I could just shut my mind off and go to sleep.


Robert M. said…
I know entirely what you mean. I often say that my mind is like a hamster wheel and the damn hamster just won't stop running. My lack of sleep manifested itself in chronic tension headaches, which were extremely debilitating. Cognitive behavioral therapy helped a bit but low-dose mirtazapine (7.5 mg/evening) worked wonders. No problems getting to sleep and no noticeable side-effects (on the lower dosage anyway). When I started I was taking 30 mg and that left me drowsy the next morning.

I do also sleep with ear plugs in all the time.
I used to have this problem, but no more. One of the advantages of being a Taoist! : )
Stat Mama said…
It's 2:48 AM here, and this is typical for me despite the fact that I need to be up very early. Nighttime, when everyone else is asleep, is the only time when I am not flooded with sensory input. I can relax. My mind needs this, craves this, and breaking the cycle requires amazing effort. I figured I wasn't the only one.
Beastinblack said…
Just stick some Oscar peterson or Mozart on and Mental quiet appears by default
eaucoin said…
This is me too. I feel like I've never been master of my sleep zone. Invariably the night before I am going into a heavily scheduled day, when I need sleep the most, it completely eludes me. When I was a teenager I started looking forward to going to bed from around six o'clock. But when I got to bed it felt like this was the only time when the demands on me weren't overwhelming. I remember thinking that sleeping was a waste of the best time of the day. I also remember going to bed planning to use my imagination to enjoy this "free time." Sometimes I would be smarting from some humiliation and think that I could imagine what it must be like to be popular, but I couldn't do it even in my own mind where I was in control of the script.
My son was just diagnosed yesterday with Aspergers, and sleep (or lack thereof) is a HUGE issue for him.

He's scared to close his eyes. He's scared of potential nightmares, or that someone will "break into our house and kill us."

If you could offer any suggestions, I'd be more than thankful.
Gavin Bollard said…
Mom's Fortress of Solitude,

I can't say for certain what the best ways to tackle your issues are but since it seems to be fear rather than inability to sleep that is concerning your son, he may be having difficulty separating fiction from reality.

You need to get down to the facts. Find out why he thinks someone will break in. Did he see it in a movie? did it happen to someone in his class? The News? A book?

If it's film or TV related, then you should try to discover exactly where your son saw the problematic scenes. Then, replay the scenes (I know that sounds crazy)...

...replay them again, pointing out mistakes, lauging at bits etc. Break the reality. Give him the remote and get him to pause, fast forward, slow-mo etc.. So that he feels that he has control over the media.

If you can find special features on the DVD which talk about the making of it great, You might find that the director's commentary helps too.

Even better, find movies with the same actor in them, preferably someone who died in the scenes. Show them to him. Show him that the actor is now working on new films.

Of course, you should also show your son around the house. Show him how well it locks up and emphasise how safe the neighbourhood is.

If the problem is something that happened to someone at school, you need to talk about how and why your place is safer. Maybe his house was on a main street or near public transport. Maybe they leave their doors unlocked?

Since it seems to be fear rather than sleeplessness that's driving the issues, removing the fear should allow your son to sleep.
Marita said…
What you have to say about sleeplessness sounds so much like what my older daughter complains of at night.

She only ever had a cola drink once in her life and never again because it made her brain buzz and the noise wouldn't stop - she was awake all night.

But on usual days when she has trouble sleeping we've found a relaxation story on her iPod really helps. We found a very good story that uses hypnotic phrasing. A person talking seems to be able to quiet the voices in her head.
Anonymous said…
Gavin, can you do a post about dreams and dreaming? Do Aspies dream frequently and do they remember their dreams?

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