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Except for sleep…

Except for sleep...

 When people ask us lately how things are going for Janey, we usually answer that things are going quite well, except for sleep.  That’s a big “except for”!

When Janey was younger, sleep was one of her lesser issues.  She actually slept pretty well.  There would be a tough night (or what we thought back then was a tough night) now and then, and once in a long while a very tough, almost no sleep night, but for the most part, she slept fairly normally.  This changed probably three or four years ago.

Now, it’s a fairly common event for Janey to not sleep at all.  All night, not a wink.  No moments of drowsing off, no hour of restless sleep, no nothing.  Just no sleep.

It’s also quite common for Janey to sleep amazingly little for nights on end.  A recent weekend, she slept 5 hours over the course of three nights.  

On the other end of things, sometimes Janey sleeps for a very long time—12 or 13 hours.  This isn’t always after a sleepless night, as you’d think, but during a whole series of nights when her sleep is better.  Often there will be a night of normal sleep, a long night of sleep and then another night of normal sleep—and then…usually the sleepless nights start again.  But even that pattern isn’t a regular pattern. Often, there is no pattern at all.

There’s also little pattern to how Janey does after not sleeping.  Sometimes we get reports from school that she’s very sleepy, and even that they had to let her sleep a lot of the day.  Or if she’s home, we see that—times when she’s just going to sleep all day even though we don’t want her to, because you would think it would lead to another sleepless night.  But it doesn’t always—sometimes she sleeps all day and then all night.  Other times, she is perfectly fine after not sleeping—as lively and happy as the day is long, and it’s pretty long for us as parents, those days.

As you can see, there is little consistency to Janey’s sleep.  This is hard on us, and I’m sure even harder on her.  I can’t imagine how it feels to just not be tired at a time when you know people want to sleep, and even more how it would be if there isn’t much you can do to entertain yourself

When Janey doesn’t sleep, either Tony or I don’t sleep, or we try not to.  Sometimes it’s impossible not to drift off for a minute, and usually, Janey is okay when we do that.  She is not an eloper—she never tries to leave the house.  She usually spends her long awake nights playing with her devises, watching the same videos over and over, including the dreaded Finger Family, the video that must have been designed as torture for parents.  The biggest problem is when she decides to have a snack. Chips wind up all over the house, stepped on into little pieces, ice cream is left out and melts onto her bed, soda is spilled all over the floor. 

After years of not getting her period for some reason we (and doctors) never figured out, Janey seems to be getting it more regularly now, and I’m sure those cycles have a part in the sleeping and not sleeping, although we can’t quite match them up with any part of a cycle.  Another factor is what Janey eats.  I’ve often talked about how chocolate can keep her up for days, and most everyone knows not to give her chocolate.  However, Tony and I are probably to blame for one recent awful stretch of sleepless nights, because we let her have regular coffee for a few days VERY first thing in the morning, thinking that would be okay.  She loves coffee—we all love coffee—and she is 17, certainly old enough to have coffee with the rest of us.  But from now on, she will have her own “special” coffee, decaf.

I don’t see the sleep problem getting better any time soon.  We have tried the medications her pediatrician has said are okay to try, and they make little difference.  We have tried long walks during the day in addition to making sure she gets a lot of other exercise, we have tried routines, we have tried strict bedtimes, we’ve tried most everything we can think of.  When Janey is determined not to sleep, she isn’t going to sleep (and when she is determined TO sleep, she is going to sleep).  Luckily, since Tony has retired, we can usually get a nap during the day if we need to, trading off if Janey is home.  

From what I’ve heard from all of you out there, Janey’s sleep issues are far from unique.  I wonder if this is a problem more with girls with autism than with boys, due to hormones or just the different nature of autism in girls?  Although I wish all of you could have a good night’s sleep every night, it does often help thinking of others out there awake like we are, others who live for that first cup of (non-special, fully caffeinated) coffee.  All of us in this club we probably didn’t intend to join but now are lifetime members of, the club of those who care for and love a girl or woman with autism—let’s raise a cup of coffee to our perplexing, fascinating and often sleepless girls.

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