Sleep and Autism: Can These Words be Used Together… ever?

by J

Well, it is 5:11 am. I’ve been up since 4 am. Why? Oh, well that’s because I go to sleep with my son at 9 pm. ugh.

With the exception of a 7 month period, S has never been a great sleeper. In his infancy he just had to be ON me in order to fall asleep… and stay asleep. I spent pretty much 7 straight weeks with him in my arms. No complaints though…  I loved every second of those newborn snuggles, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Around 3 months old, S started sleeping in a crib, but waking 2 or 3 times a night to nurse. He was easy to put back down, just rock and nurse and he would sleep a few more hours. Somewhere around 9 months, he started night nursing more, so we began co-sleeping. This lasted until around 22 months.

Somewhere around 22 months, S magically started allowing me to just lay him down for bed. It was great. We did bath, brushing his teeth, jammies, prayers, lights out and I would tuck him in and wouldn’t see him until morning. We could hear him on the monitor, babbling and we could see him playing with his nightlight, but he was still going to sleep on his own… even if it took 45 mins to 2 hours to fall asleep. Same thing for nap time. It was great… he laid down without a fuss and slept beautifully for about 7 months. Oh what a great 7 months those where! For the first time in 5 solid years… I was getting 8 restful hours of sleep a night AND an hour to myself before bed.

Pure. Fucking. Bliss.

Then, the devil known as ‘winter break’ arrived this year and the lapse in school sent S on a fantastically fun backslide. The biggest slide? Sleeping.

I now have to lay down with him to get him to sleep. And, if that wasn’t enough, it can sometimes take him up to two hours to fall asleep. We have tried adjusting his nap time and bed time, but to no avail. I finally contacted his early intervention team, and they sent out an OT for a follow up consult for this, along with many of his sensory issues.

The OT thinks that part of S’s sleep issues might be sensory. For instance, we have to be in a tight embrace for him to fall asleep. For his sleep issues, and other sensory issues, his team has now added a weekly OT to his service plan.

Now, our bedtime routine involves sensory brushes, jumping and joint compressions. I have to give him vigorous rubs with a towel after his bath and rub his skin while getting him dressed.

It still takes him at least 45 mins to fall asleep, and still sometimes up to 2 hours. And honestly, this is taking a VERY big toll on me.

I used to live for nap time and bed time. After all, I’m with S all day and quite frankly, mommy needs some down time. Not to mention, I am trying to run a business… I need those times for editing, blogging and client emails. I won’t even get started on the fact that for the last 5 years, I survived on 2-4 hours a sleep a night while I built my business… its my turn now… mommy needs me time.

Now, when I lay down with S at his early bedtime, *I* end up falling asleep with him… often before he falls asleep… and then I wake up usually around 3 or 4 and am unable to fall back asleep. So then, by the time bed time rolls around again the next night, I’m exhausted, and I fall asleep again… a viscously repeating cycle.

I’m tired. I’m cranky. I’m gaining weight. I’m exhausted. Did I mention that I’m cranky? And what’s worse? I’m becoming bitter. Bitter at S for taking away my down time and my long awaited good night’s sleep. And bitter at my husband for having homework to do and not being able to put S down himself.  How ridiculous is that? How can you be bitter at a sweet two year old and a husband that would walk to the end of the earth for you?

I’m trying to enjoy these late night snuggles… because, well, I know these sweet years are fleeting. Soon, S will no longer need his mommy like he does now and I know I will look back on these days and wish for one more snuggle.  But, this doesn’t change the fact that I am human… and humans require proper sleep and at least one opportunity a day to pee alone.

S’s OT has suggested melatonin. Now, I know that this is a naturally occurring substance in the brain and that giving this would just be a supplement. But, I am a pretty ‘natural’ person and I’m not big on pills and the like. I won’t lie though, this sounds rather tempting. But, for whatever reason, I feel like ‘medicating’ my child will make me a failure of a mother… even though I know that doesn’t make any sense.

I guess I might be more on board if S’s sleep issues seemed to be affecting him. But they don’t seem to be. He wakes up rested and happy from both nap and night time sleep. But it is affecting me. Deeply.

Either way, we can’t go on like this. I’m getting too old to run on coffee alone. So, now I have one more thing to research and worry about and I’m too exhausted to even think about it.