When we think about sensory processing disorder (SPD), we tend to think about someone who jumps when someone touches their shoulder, puts their hands over their ears when a siren whizzes by, and can’t be out in the sun without sunglasses.
But in truth, those with SPD experience chaos not just in reaction to sensory overstimulation but in many aspects of functioning.
One is rhythmicity.
Take my friend Samantha.
She either eats too little or too much.
She sleeps all day or can’t fall asleep and walks around like a zombie.
Some days, she’s all over the place, her heart racing and her breathing rapid. Other days, she’s so lethargic, she can barely get the energy to take the dog out.
At times, she can’t get enough sex. At other times she goes for weeks without being in the mood.
What she rarely if ever seems to be is regulated, modulated, balanced.
Orchestrating all behavior are the body’s rhythms, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and brain waves. They exist within a circadian or 24-hour sleep/wake cycle, an inner clock that synchronizes body rhythms by the ebb and flow of light and dark. Our body temperature for instance, is higher by day and lower by night, while the right side of the body is warmer by day and the left side is warmer by night.
In an organized nervous system, rhythmicity is regular for the most part and behavior is modulated.
But in those with under- or over-arousability, rhythmicity flows in extremes. Your behavior is unmodulated and everything is off key: movement, sleep, heart rate, respiration, temperature, appetite, sexual desire.
Take sleep. If your system is under-reactive to sensation, you fall asleep in a wink: without light, sound and movement there’s nothing to charge your system.
This is good. But you may also oversleep as a result and find it hard to get going in the morning and especially if you have low muscle tone. Not surprisingly, most on the low end of arousal are owls and don’t get going until late in the day. Such a late start probably affected how well you did in school and work performance as most jobs require morning alertness.
If you are sensory defensive, you are too wired to fall asleep. Once asleep, you easily awaken by noise, movement in the bed, odors, light pouring into the room or the sensation of your bedding or night clothes. As a result, you don’t sleep deeply and awaken exhausted in the morning, even when you get enough sleep.
What’s the Answer?
What can you do to become more rhythmic? The answer of course is not straight forward. There is no pill to make you regulated.
Rather, you must avoid everything that throws you out of whack and feed your nervous system every day and throughout the day with organizing and modulating activities. These include:
- Movement and healing tactile sensations
- Deep breathing
- Healing music
- Light therapy
- Non-allergenic, non-processed nutritional food, organic whenever possible
In other words, you must be committed to a lifestyle of healing and regeneration of your nervous system. It may seem difficult at first and take much discipline. But in truth it is a life of supreme sensory pleasure!
Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder. She’s the author of Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, TooTight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensoryprocessing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email firstname.lastname@example.org.