by Daniel Antonsson
When I was a child, I cannot remember having much of a sleeping problem. I could relax and sleep through the night and woke up feeling well. When I became an adult, things changed for the worse and sleeping built up to a mountain of fear. Especially when there was a change in routines, when I knew that something special was going to happen the days ahead, my brain started to play mind games with me. If there was something important that I needed to have energy for, I was scared that I would not be able to sleep and that of course made me worried and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I simply could not sleep. I loved to see new countries and I really liked part of the travel itself, the exciting feeling of going to the airport and seeing all the
people in transit. It all was an adventure and it made me feel high on life.
The downside, however, was that in most cases I felt like garbage. At the same time, although I had not slept much at all and my energy was low, I continued on with my spare battery. For me personally, my Autism makes me very sensitive to sounds and highly aware of my surroundings. So trying to sleep on a plane, a bus, or a train is just not an option, no matter how tired I am. The times when I had long flights, it felt like all passengers were sleeping except me. I was up talking a little with the flight attendants, watched movies, listened to music, and walked around a little in the plane. The time passed slowly, but in the end the plane touched ground and I arrived at my destination. I remember one time when I actually had a very long conversation with a man on a
flight from Sweden to Thailand. It was crazy, we talked almost nonstop the whole way and he was a highly interesting person. It was fun, but at the same time it took a lot of energy. I thought that I would be awake anyway and feel bad, but at least this way the time passed relatively fast.
Many times, I was so pumped and wanted to experience something when I arrived at a new country, so often I just went to the hotel and left my bags and went out. I remember one time when I came to Tokyo and was totally drained of energy. It was late in the evening, but I was still not ready to go to bed. I took a taxi and asked the driver to take me to a nightclub area and it did not take long before I was surrounded by neon lights and music and what a night it was until I crashed in bed late in the morning.
There have been times when my sleep has been better and times when I ended up in such a bad place I did not know what to do. Going without sleep for a day or two was the norm and for a period of around 6 months, my sleep routine was as follows: awake for 3 days straight, than sleep 7-8 hours, awake for 3 days, sleep 7-8 hours and so on. Do I have to say that I almost drove myself crazy? The longest time I have been awake is five and a half days and that has happened twice. I ended up in the psychiatric hospital for a week. Not because I had a mental health issue, but simply because I felt so bad. Of course, I would have preferred to stay at home, but at the time it was what I needed to do. I became afraid of going to bed and it felt like I had forgotten how to sleep. My brain simply could not shut down. Most people have the opposite problem. If they feel tired, they cannot stay awake even if their life would be on the line. They have no idea how it is to sleep so badly, but lie in bed night after night without a single minute of sleep.
To those out there that have severe problems sleeping, remember that things can get better over time. It does not have to be a problem forever. Things are better for me now and have been so for quite a long time. Me and my girlfriend sleep in different bedrooms. I would like to have her at my side and be able to wake up together with her, but that is not an option. I have tried and I just listen to every breath that she takes and the feeling that someone is there moving around makes it impossible to sleep. Fortunately, she understands me and it is not a big thing. Don’t hesitate to make the necessary changes that you need, do the best for yourself even if it means asking for help.
Daniel Antonsson is a 43 year old Autistic man living in Sweden with his Venezuelan girlfriend and four year old daughter. He has always enjoyed writing about different subjects and being able to publish for the Art of Autism make him feel truly blessed.