I can’t sleep, send help

I’ve had an absolute shit time sleeping for nearly two weeks now. I have no idea why (is there something happening with the planets???) or when it’ll unfuck itself. What I do know: this isn’t new for me (unfortch), I don’t know how to fix it (dizazz), I want it to stop, eventually it will.

Overhead view of a slept-in bed with white sheets and bedding, blue-and-white striped pillowcases, and oversized muted gold-yellow decor pillow.

I’ve had trouble sleeping my whole life. It’s one of the most autistic things about me. About a year ago, I stumbled into some semblance of stability and safety in my life, and my sleep improved drastically. I went from literal decades of an average of three to four hours of sleep a night (not consecutive or uninterrupted hours, by the way) to sleeping seven to nine hours a night, usually waking only once or twice along the way. There’ve been a few instances over the past year of restless and sleepless nights, but nothing like the last week and a half; nothing sustained. Overall, this last year of sleep has been GLORIOUS. Which is why it’s so frustrating to be back in a cycle of sleeplessness.

Mostly, my problem—historically and currently—is getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. I almost always wake up in the middle of the night at least once. It is exceptionally rare for me sleep through the night. Mostly, I wake up to pee. Sometimes, I wake up STARVING. Maybe I am a baby?

I’ve learned, over many years of disordered sleep, to not fight it when these nights happen. Fighting it is futile. If my mind is awake, even if it’s exhausted, there’s no point in trying; once I’m awake, I’m AWAKE. I’ve also learned that the standard sleep advice—especially the advice for falling back asleep after waking in the middle of the night—is useless for me. That advice is for allistic brains. Not autistic brains. Autistic brains are wired differently, so they function differently. This difference in wiring means a lot of standard advice, not just the sleep-related stuff, doesn’t work for us autistics.

When these nights happen, the best I can do is stick as closely to my schedule and routine as possible, and ride them out. This requires a level of patience and self-compassion that I have yet to master, or even employ consistently.

As you can imagine, and perhaps even know from experience, when you don’t sleep well, it throws everything off—athlete or not.

I’m fortunate to have the privilege to be flexible during the day when this happens. I work from home and my boss is incredibly accommodating, so when I need, last minute, to take time off, or sign in late, or sign out early, it’s not a problem. I am so grateful to have this privilege. I haven’t always, and I know that I likely won’t always.

Technically, that flexibility extends to other parts of my day/life, too. Theoretically, I could just, you know, take a nap and try to play catch up. In reality, lol no. Napping doesn’t help. It actively makes things worse.

Even with the privilege of flexibility, when my sleep is fucked up, it’s a domino effect of dizazz. There are, of course, the obvious implications re: training. Training aside, it makes my life a trillion times more difficult. Shit-ass sleep makes me cranky and impatient, exacerbates my sensory issues, impairs my ability to mask (in the autistic way, not the Covid way, which: good in the long term, not good, sometimes devastating, in the short term), and fucks—hard—with my already very fucked-up eating habits. That last one is a particular bummer.

My eating is extremely and autistically disordered, even on the best of days and after a good night of sleep. When I’m struggling with sleep, it’s significantly harder for me to eat. I lose my appetite, which is unreliable in the first place, and my already shit-ass executive functioning becomes even less reliable, which means I lack the cognitive energy that goes into preparing and cooking food on top of the physical energy required to get up and make it (or go buy it). When I don’t eat well, I don’t sleep well. But if I’m not sleeping well, I can’t eat. Pain.

Lack of sleep also messes with my fine motor skills, which are a particular train wreck in the kitchen already and become even more of a safety issue when I’m low on sleep.

So no. In this context, flexibility isn’t particularly helpful for me. I need structure. I cannot function without it. This is, for me, one of the most disabling aspects of being autistic. The more my daily schedule and routine change, the more I’m thrown for a loop and the harder it is for my nervous system to stay regulated. While it’s an incredible privilege to have the option of flexibility, enacting it across the board, without careful consideration, especially when I’m already in a dysregulated state from a lack of sleep and food, can cause more problems for me than it might solve.

The good news, this time, is: From a work perspective, this week in particular is a good week to have a bad week of sleep. Things are slow, most people are out/off until the new year, I don’t need to be as on top of my shit.

The not-good news, this time, is: From a training perspective, this week in particular is a terrible week to have a bad week of sleep. It’s Test Week. Sleep and nutrition are the two most important pieces of training, and right now—and for the last week and a half—both of those things have been A MESS for me.

Did I mention that on top of it all, I unexpectedly started my period a few days ago? Or that since the summer I turned 30, my period presents with an excruciating migraine that makes eating nearly impossible because each bite sends a searing, white-hot pain through my jaw?

Have I told you yet about how periods are particularly and distinctly terrible for autistic people? That they amplify our anxiety, exacerbate our sensory issues, and make it difficult for us to regulate our emotions and behavior—beyond what’s typical for non-autistic period-having people. That all of these period-related problems can interfere with and negatively impact sleep, the thing I was having trouble with already for an entire week before my period showed up a couple days ago. Seriously, my period, with its accompanying migraine, could not have picked a worse week to surprise me. Rains/pours, etc.

Does this all sound like a lot?

I KNOW.

Does it sound like I’m complaining?

I AM! This sucks! I don’t like it! In fact, I HATE IT!!!

I haven’t had a stretch of non-sleep like this in a long time. I’m no longer used to it (I cannot believe that I used to “be used to” this, and operate like this at all times. FOR YEARS. While working outside of my home. HOW.), and I’m having a hard time dealing with it. I don’t want to be here, somewhere in the middle. And yet, I am. Here’s hoping I’m closer to the end of it than the beginning.

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