Sleep & Sensory Processing Disorder (7 Helpful Things)

I’ve struggled with sleep my whole life – literally. Even as a baby I hardly slept!

All through school and university, I was constantly sleep deprived. I’d do all the wind down things, and then I’d go to bed and lie awake for several hours. My sleep hygiene was supposedly pretty good, but it never seemed to make much difference. I just never got sleepy.

Getting a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) diagnosis made this finally make sense. My brain is bombarded with confusing sensory input all day long, making me increasingly overloaded throughout my day. By the time I want to go to bed, my brain is extremely wired!

Despite all this, I actually haven’t had to address my sleep since I was diagnosed last year. I’m on a high dose of antidepressants from a severe depressive episode a couple of years back, and they come with an actually helpful side effect – they make me sleepy at night! The past couple of years, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be able to fall asleep when I want to, and it is NICE. It’s definitely been a big help in calming my brain / nervous system down.

I’m experimenting with reducing the dose of my antidepressants at the moment, and I’m still getting some sleepy effect, but not quite as much. So I’m working with my occupational therapist, Carrie, on some sleep strategies. It’s still a work in progress, but I wanted to share some things I’m finding helpful so far, and some things I want to try out!

 

Helpful thing #1: this enormous u-shaped pillow!

This pillow is now one of my favourite things! It’s called a “U-shaped maternity pillow” – it’s intended for pregnant women, but it can be helpful for anyone 😊

I talk a lot about proprioception – our sense of body position and where we are in space. Proprioceptive input is calming and grounding for our brains, which is wonderful when we’re trying to go to sleep. This is why so many people find weighted blankets helpful! I feel a bit trapped under a weighted blanket though, so it doesn’t really work for me. Carrie suggested this type of pillow, because it provides proprioceptive input from the sides, instead of from weight on top of you.

Sleeping in this pillow is like being in a cozy nest. It’s super supportive for me, and definitely helping me to get to sleep easier. I also like curling up in it to read or rest, and it’s really nice for when I’m recovering from a meltdown too. Thoroughly recommend! (I got this one from an online NZ store, but a google should bring up some options for you.)

 

Helpful thing #2: Yoga Nidra for sleep

I’ve tried many, many sleep meditations, but these ones are truly golden.

Yoga nidra is a state of consciousness between being awake and asleep. I’ve become a big fan of guided yoga nidra meditations over this past year. They really help my brain to restore and to process things.

There are some on the “Insight Timer” app that are specifically for going to sleep, and they are so good! These ones by Jennifer Piercy are my faves. I haven’t yet heard the end of any of them. This app is also free, which is amazing.

 

Helpful thing #3: Dim, cozy lighting

I find too much light very stimulating, and I never turn on the ceiling lights in my bedroom. Instead, I have a couple of lamps and some fairy lights. Having warm, low lighting while I’m winding down for sleep helps my brain to transition into a more restful state.

 

Helpful thing #4: This bedtime yoga video

Bedtime Yoga with Adriene on YoutubeYoga with Adriene is so wonderful and this nurturing video is maybe my favourite yoga class ever?! Tons of yummy proprioception in here, with lots of feel-good stretches, and even a bit of self-massage. I always feel more settled after this practice.

I currently can’t do yoga (my chest is still healing from the blood clots), but I hope I’ll be able to again soon!

 

Helpful thing #5: A shower, sleepy scents & fresh PJs

Water always helps me to feel more regulated (lots of proprioception again!) and I love the crisp feeling of clean pyjamas. Also, the “Sleepy” scent from Lush is my ride or die. I have the shower gel, the body lotion, the dusting powder and the body spray 😆 I always use at least one of them before bed. I think the shower gel is my favourite.

 

Helpful thing #6: A warm drink & a good book

Curling up in my u-shaped pillow with a mug of hot chocolate or tea and a book is such a calming sensory experience for me. I don’t read anything that requires too much from me before bed. A cozy mystery or a children’s novel is perfect.

 

Helpful thing #7: Self-regulating throughout the day

This is the biggie – not for immediate sleep relief, but definitely for improved sleep over time. Now that I know that I have SPD, and have had a lot of occupational therapy, I’m better equipped to respond to what my brain needs. I can use tools and activities to self-regulate throughout my day, bringing myself back to a calmer, more grounded state. This means that I’m less overstimulated than I used to be in the evenings. It’s still a constant work in progress of recoding my brain, but things are definitely improving!

 

Things I want to try out:

  • This Dream Pad – another recommendation from Carrie, my OT! It sounds super interesting – it’s a pillow (or an insert for your pillow) that plays specially designed music through vibrations that only you can hear. Wild.
  • Sewing a weighted, warmable eye mask (I love Space Masks for when I need some extra care, but I can’t afford them on a regular basis!)

 

I hope this has been a little bit helpful! I’m still learning, but I’ve found some great things that work for me now. All our brains are unique, whether you’re neurotypical or neurodivergent – so all these things might not work for you, and that’s okay! It’s definitely a process of self-discovery. I’d love to know if you have any complications with sleep, and if you’ve found any strategies that work well for you! Let me know in the comments, and let’s pool our ideas 😊

 

All the hugs to you,

Sarah

 

 

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