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asperger's syndrome information and features

         

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Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and is essential to the functioning of the brain. Sleep difficulties are very common among people with Asperger syndrome, and serve to exacerbate existing difficulties or impact the ability to cope with them.

A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Helsinki in Finland concluded that the neuropsychiatric profile of Asperger syndrome led to a predisposition to insomnia, and that assessments of sleep quality should be standard for those diagnosed.

Another study from Canada looked at a variety of areas of sleep in people with Asperger syndrome. It is in quite technical language so I will summarise my understanding of it as best I can, but you might want to follow the link to read it for yourself if you want to check any of the details.

They found that the amount of sleep people got in the first two thirds of the night was lower than normal for people with Asperger syndrome, that dream sleep was disrupted, and that the ability to filter out noises etc. might be impaired.

PLMS (Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep) were also a problem. PLMS is stereotyped regular movements of the legs, and sometimes arms, during sleep, as often as 3 or 4 times a minute. The movements could be large or small, but they cause significant disruption to sleep. They aren't sure what causes it but it is linked to a variety of conditions.

The study also showed that people with Asperger syndrome have most of their dreams earlier on during their nights sleep than most people do.

I found this part particularly interesting because it is during the earlier part of the night, when the deepest level of sleep occurs, that night terrors happen. Night terrors are like very bad nightmares that wake you up, except that even though you may sit up, be sweating and breathing fast, and have your eyes open (often with dilated pupils) and may even be screaming, you may be still asleep and might not answer or respond when spoken to. It can be terrifying for others to observe, but is usually nothing to worry about and often ends as you get older. Normal nightmares in comparison usually occur later along during the nights sleep. I have heard that night terrors are commonly reported in children with Asperger syndrome, and it occurs to me that if we have more dreams in the earlier part of the night when they are most likely to occur then it is logical that we are more likely to experience them.

Anxiety can be a factor in sleep difficulties too. When I was a child I used to dread going to bed because it meant I would just be there worrying... I would be playing back events from the day in my head trying to make sense of it all, and quite often trying to figure out what to do about the misunderstandings and the trouble I had got in to once again. In my teens I began dealing with this by reading or listening to music before I went to bed in an effort to relax my mind so I could turn it off. It did turn off my mind, but it meant I was still losing an hour or two of sleep at the start of every night by doing it, so I had to give it up.

In typically aspie fashion, learning more about sleep and dreaming and the way the mind works, has been of most use to me in addressing my sleeping difficulties. I used to feel unable to sleep because it felt like wasted time... I couldn't get my mind to relax because for whatever reason I felt there were things I had to be thinking about it. I have come to appreciate though that sleep is not wasted time... it is the brains way of organising memories and learning experiences and resetting itself emotionally. Things will usually feel better after a good nights sleep. Once I was able to think of sleep in terms of it being a solution to how I was feeling it became a lot easier for me to relax at bedtime.

There are of course lots of adjustments you can make to your lifestyle that might improve your sleep, such as changes in diet, sleeping arrangements, or having a bedtime routine. They are all worth trying, but I find when I do things like that I become dependent on them, and trying to maintain them at all times becomes a source of stress in itself.

Further reading available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

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