I had a terrible night's sleep due to my partner's need to have the television on while sleeping, which is a sensory nightmare for me. Throughout the night, my partner gets up several times, causing multiple interruptions to my sleep. At one point, he woke up and began scrolling through the television options, causing the static screensaver to flicker lights. Additionally, the incessant button pushing on the remote felt like spiders tap dancing on my eardrums.
These sensory issues are especially prevalent when I have undue stress in my life, as is the case in my work environment.
Looking back on my childhood, I realize that it was not so much the fact that I had to share a bedroom with one of my two sisters, as I was the middle child, that bothered me. Rather, it was the disruptive noises and sleep interruptions caused by my siblings that made it difficult for me to get a good night's sleep. At that time, I did not have the language to communicate my needs, which often led to fights with my sisters. As a result of my poor sleep, I would oversleep in the morning, causing my mom to struggle to wake me up for school. I used to believe that there was something wrong with me since my school friends never appeared to be as exhausted as I was, and they never seemed to oversleep like I did.
When I was a child, even during brief periods when I had my own bedroom, I was often disturbed by small sounds like dripping water from a pipe, which would keep me up all night. I have also experienced intermittent insomnia, as my mind tends to become active as soon as I lie down to sleep. However, over the years, I have learned to manage this through mindfulness practices.
During my marriage, I constantly struggled with my ex-husband's snoring and his desire to have the television on at night. As a result, I never really had a good night's sleep, which certainly had a negative impact on my overall well-being and mood. Prior to my struggles with alcohol, I would occasionally use it as a means of numbing my sensory issues in order to fall asleep at night. For several years, I would consume one or two drinks before bed, which helped make the noises and lights more tolerable for me.
On this Monday morning, I find myself sleep-deprived and irritable due to the ongoing struggle James and I have with sleep. Despite my efforts to communicate how his sleep patterns and needs significantly impact me, he seems to lack understanding. This morning, his response to my frustration was,
"I did my very best to be quiet, I don't see how it affects you so much."
Since realizing my neurodivergence, I have been actively seeking support through various means, including joining a Facebook group for autistic women. Recently, I shared my predicament with the group to learn from others' experiences and discover effective ways of communicating my sensory needs to loved ones who struggle to understand them.
Although well-intended, most of the advice I received from the Facebook group didn't actually solve my problem. Some of the advice was even haughty and unhelpful. For instance, a few women claimed that my partner was being selfish and suggested that I should leave the relationship altogether. This is a common issue with open support groups, as some members may project their own issues onto others and offer unhelpful solutions. Within less than 24 hours of posting, my post has garnered 129 comments. Despite having to sift through some illegible comments, I was able to analyze the remaining responses in a logical manner. Through this process, I realized that I am not alone in my struggles. This issue of partners having different neurotypes and sleep needs is quite common in relationships.
The advice I received can be summarized into three main parts. The first was to use an eye mask and earplugs for myself. However, I have tried this and found that earplugs actually make matters worse for me. Having anything touch the inside of my ears is more uncomfortable than the noise itself. My ears are extremely sensitive, and I have a daily morning routine where I use q-tips to carefully remove any residual water that may be present after my shower. I have also found that keeping my ears clean helps prevent other annoyances related to my hearing sensitivities. While the eye mask is less of a problem than earplugs, it still causes discomfort as it presses against my eyelashes and distracts me from sleeping.
The second piece of advice I received was to sleep in different rooms. Some suggested starting in bed together for cuddles and evening talks, then moving to a separate room, while others recommended having my own bedroom altogether. Another option was to take turns sleeping in the other space while sharing the main bedroom. Although this is an option, I know that my partner may not be interested in it. Personally, I prefer sleeping with my partner, but at this point, having my own bedroom sounds like an absolute dream, no pun intended.
On some occasions, my partner's noises and disturbances have caused me to become so agitated that I have stormed out of the room to either the couch or the guest room in frustration. Also at times, when I experience sensory overload, I find it helpful to retreat to bed early. A dark and quiet room provides me with the necessary calm and comfort to relax. Unfortunately, this has left my partner feeling neglected and dismissed, which was never my intention.
The third set of advice I received was the most compassionate and balanced. It acknowledged that my partner's needs were just as important as mine and recommended having a calm discussion where I explained how difficult it has been for me to get a good night's sleep and working together to find different compromises that would work for both of us. This is the advice that I am following. Although I have had many discussions about these issues in the past, I did not know they were related to my autistic neurotype. Now that I have this new knowledge, I am hopeful that we can begin to find a solution to this ongoing issue.
In my experience, as a person with an autistic neurotype, there are several sleep issues that can arise. One of the most common is hypersensitivity to noise and light, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, sensory issues such as uncomfortable clothing or bedding can also impact sleep quality. Another issue is difficulty with sleep regulation, which can cause irregular sleep patterns and difficulty falling asleep at a consistent time. Finally, many autistic individuals experience co-occurring conditions such as anxiety or ADHD, which can further impact their sleep.
Getting a restful night's sleep is not only vital for me to be my best as a partner but also to perform at my peak for work and other obligations. It's important for me to have my needs met and to find a compromise that works for both of us. Even though discussing this can be uncomfortable, I believe scheduling a time when we are both in a positive mindset will help us understand and care for each other's needs. I am optimistic that we can come to a solution where we both feel content.
I am scheduled to meet with the human resources department tomorrow to initiate my accommodations request, and I have mixed feelings of anticipation and apprehension. She sent me an ADA form to review before our meeting which she said will inform our conversation. I hope that this will pave the way for a more empathetic and considerate work culture.