For a long time now, I’ve woken up exhausted. It doesn’t matter whether I go to bed early or late. It doesn’t seem to make a difference if I have to get up early or get to sleep in. Even having a rare full night’s sleep doesn’t help me. Whatever I do, I just can’t crack the code to wake up feeling refreshed. I don’t even remember what that would feel like.
In my case, the scale is whether I wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a car, a bus or a semi-trailer…
I have a lot on my mind right now. I’m worried about my Mum, whose health isn’t good at the moment. I’m worried about my busy husband. I’m worried about my older kids, who are battling anxiety and increasing expectations at high school. I’m worried about Delilah, who seems happy enough but whom I haven’t been able to spent a lot of time with lately.
I’m busy with copywriting, which is great for the mind, soul and bank balance, but represents another thing I need to juggle. I have grand plans for this site and so many ideas to raise awareness and support for parents, like you and me. I have blog posts constantly swirling through my brain but limited time to write them.
I think in my case, my exhaustion is linked to my inability to quiet my brain and achieve real rest.
And, I know this is not just something I struggle with – it’s a constant battle for all special needs parents.
There are many reasons for this:
- we tend to be hypervigilant, always on the lookout for situations in which we may need to intervene
- we have greater demands on our time and find ourselves doing things, all the time, with little time to rest
- we need to pay more attention to the needs of our kids so we can step in and advocate if needed
- we have to be more hands-on with medical, education, specialist and therapy needs
- we need to plan for “what’s next” so we get everything in place to make it happen
- we tend to have to plan outings, events and experiences with military precision
- we’re always fighting the feeling of guilt – that we’re not doing enough, not being enough, not responsive enough
It’s little wonder that we often find sleep elusive or we find the sleep we get is not enough.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m writing this post as someone who continually wakes up exhausted so I’m not one to look up to! However, I’ve asked other special needs parents what they do and have researched ideas for how we can achieve a better night’s sleep. If you have extra tips to share, I’m all ears!
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep as a Special Needs Parent
Monitor your Sleep
It makes sense to monitor your sleep patterns before jumping to conclusions about what may be causing your problems. The easiest way to do this is to keep a sleep diary. For a week, write down details about your sleeping habits – when you went to bed, roughly how long it took to go to sleep, how many times you woke up during the night, how long you were awake for in these periods and when you woke up. With luck, you should be able to see a pattern at the end of the week and you’ll have a better idea of what’s causing your sleep issues.
If you prefer technology, smart watches and exercise trackers also monitor sleep patterns. Using these devices saves you having to manually capture this information. By the end of a week, you’ll have fancy charts full of your awake times and even more information on the quality of sleep you’re getting (like REM cycles, etc). It makes sense to understand what’s happening to you before jumping to conclusions about what’s behind your habitual exhaustion. You can follow me on Facebook this week as I monitor my sleep patterns and log my sleep details each day.
Prioritise Sleep and Downtime
Whatever the cause of your exhaustion, we all need to prioritise sleep and downtime each day. This is something I’m not all that good at and you may be struggling with this too. If you’re like me, you feel the need to stay up just to get some kid-free time. You may find yourself playing games on your phone, mindlessly scrolling Facebook or watching trashy TV, till late, mainly because you’re too exhausted and spent to do much else but you want to savour some alone time.
To prioritise our needs, my husband and I are working on a reverse night-time routine, based on when we’d like to be able to turn in for the night. For instance, we want to be in bed before 10.30pm each night, which means we’d like to commence our downtime by 8.30pm, which means we need to get the kids’ into quiet time around 7.30pm, which means we need to have a 6 – 6.30 pm dinner so we have time to eat, bathe and get sorted for the night (including removing devices from their clinging hands!) Of course, some nights this does not work at all, but it’s helped us put together a new night routine that’s prioritising our needs, not just those of our kids.
Lay Off Technology
We all know blue screens are not good for our sleep – isn’t this what we end up repeating ad nauseam to our kids nearly every freaking night? Maybe it’s time we practice what we preach and put down our own screens well before bed. I know random Facebook scrolling has given me the worst possible lead-up to sleep, particularly when troubling news fills my news feed. I’ve also been over-stimulated by a late-night check of my inbox, when work emails come in and I find work consumes my thoughts and drives sleep away.
There are alternatives to screens. I repeat, there are alternatives to screens. Reading a book or magazine, colouring in, meditation, listening to an audiobook or completing puzzles can be a more calming way to welcome sleep. I’ve ditched my beloved Candy Crush, which used to be a late-night staple for me, and have embraced Sudoku, with pencil and eraser in hand. I find that attempting a puzzle each night helps to clear my mind as I focus on the numbers and filter out my troubling thoughts. Laying off technology may be what you need to get a good night’s sleep.
Open Your Mind to Alternative Tools
If sleep is still elusive, it might be time to open your mind to alternative tools to get that much-needed rest. Many people swear by essential oils as a calming and soothing tool to settle down for a good night’s sleep. Melatonin supplements, a natural hormone produced by the body to encourage sleep, is also popular with those tackling insomnia. Magnesium oil is gaining in popularity as a way to restore optimal levels of magnesium in the body to encourage more restorative sleep. Lavender oil and chamomile tea are also traditional remedies, well-known to help with relaxation and rest.
Mindfulness and meditation are also tools used by many to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and ensure a better night’s sleep. There are a large number of meditation apps and programs to guide you through the process and there are countless mindfulness exercises to ensure your brain is calm and ready for sleep. These practices will help you get to sleep and get back to sleep during the night (the part I struggle most with myself).
Get Professional Help
If you try all these tips and you’re still not sleeping well, it’s time to check in with a professional. Talk to your GP about how you’re feeling, physically and mentally, and see what they can do to help. You may benefit from speaking to a counsellor or psychologist about your worries, fears and inability to turn your thoughts off at night. Getting on top of your mental health may be just the thing needed to get you back into a good sleep routine.
There may also be a medical reason for your exhaustion, which could be resolved by medication or specialised treatment. There are various conditions which can lead to continual exhaustion and interrupted rest and it makes sense to check for them if you are not getting anywhere on your own. Sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. If you are really struggling to get enough of it, stop struggling on your own and talk to you GP to get some extra help and advice.
What do you do to get a good night’s sleep as a special need parent?