We all have difficulty with sleep disturbances and trouble snoozing from time to time but imagine you have a lifelong developmental condition which not only affected how you perceive the woken world and interact with others but also how you sleep at night.
At Happy Beds, we believe everyone needs and deserves a good night’s sleep. So, we teamed up with the National Autistic Society to research how autistic people’s sleep is affected. Here is what we found.
Autism and Sleep Are Intrinsically Linked
Our survey found a good night’s sleep is important to autistic people, but few achieve it. The data revealed, on average, autistic people have six hours of sleep a night or less (68%), despite the majority stating their bedroom is conducive to sleep.
In fact, reported sleep difficulties were very common. Almost 4 in 5 people said they have difficulty getting to sleep and are restless once they nod off. A further 59% said they wake during the night, and 48% reported waking too soon in the morning.
The side effects of this disrupted sleep are tiredness during the day and mood changes, as well as wider-reaching influences on family life, school or work.
What’s keeping people up at night? Well, 70% said anxiety was the cause of their sleep difficulties, 52% reported school or work worries, and 44% sensory issues. Other common answers included TV or internet use, a lack of routine, medication, their bed or bedroom, and food or drink consumed during the day.
Other conditions, besides autism, were also common. Some people felt these also had an impact on their sleep. 58% claimed to be depressed, 33% have gastrointestinal problems, 25% have ADHD, and a further 8% said they have epilepsy.
Autistic or not, the Coronavirus lockdown has affected us all. However, many of our respondents said they are particularly struggling to get rest during this testing time. Here are just a few of the comments made.
Carol Povey, Director of Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society said:
“Sleep is incredibly important for everyone, but for the 700,000 autistic people in the UK, getting a good night’s sleep can be particularly difficult – especially during times of uncertainty like the coronavirus outbreak.
“Lockdown has brought huge changes to everyday life and people’s routines. This is particularly hard for autistic children and adults who can feel anxious and overwhelmed by unexpected changes.
"Because of this, many autistic people may find they have difficulty settling or winding down after a stressful day, waking up repeatedly during the night or might find their increased anxiety makes it really hard to relax and fall asleep. Adjusting to this new reality has been difficult for many.
"For some autistic people, they may find that their sleep in lockdown is better as they're not experiencing as much anxiety around some things they usually find difficult, like social situations, or because they are able to spend more time doing things they enjoy.”
Parents of autistic children say fewer than 1 in 4 nearly always get a good night’s sleep. 79% revealed that their children have less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, and 82% said they have difficulty getting to sleep in the first place.
This lack of sleep is, in their opinion, affects their child’s mood and family life, and they also feel anxious.
We asked them how the Coronavirus lockdown has affected them and their autistic loved ones. They said:
So, How Can You Improve Your Sleep?
Well, whether you’re autistic or not, sleep will be a struggle if you’re not comfortable and supported. So, we would always recommend investing in a quality orthopaedic mattress.
Beyond that, 59% of people surveyed said that a dark room is important for their ideal sleep environment. 41% noted the importance of blackout blinds and having bedding of a specific material, whereas background music and weighted blankets were also mentioned.
For those who would prefer not to spend money on a solution, medication and relaxation tips were recommended by our respondents. However, in their experiences, a change of diet, keeping a sleep diary, or introducing a sleep management plan had little effect on their quality of sleep.
Want to Learn More About Autistic Sleep?
For more information and tips on how you can improve your sleep, please take a look at our posts:
- Autism and Sleep Patterns: How to Improve Quality of Sleep.
- Autism Bedroom Design: How to Create a Safe Space at Night.
- Autism and Sleep Disorders: The Unknown Effects of Common Conditions.