It’s the middle of summer break from school here in the U.S., and most of us are at least starting to question our sanity by now. This leads to the inevitable waves of exhaustion. We miss the breaks that school days afforded us. Our bodies and emotional well-being miss that downtime.
I’m a firm believer that rest has to be one of our biggest priorities, especially during times like this. Lack of sleep is a huge trigger for me when it comes to migraine headaches, among other problems. And as we all know, sleep issues are one of the most fundamental challenges our autistic kids face.
Our sleep is interrupted as we help them try to sleep. Some of us also lose sleep being vigilant for middle-of-the-night behaviors that might be dangerous to our kids. Many of us are on guard so much during the day that we have trouble calming down at night. And most all of us lose sleep worrying about something.
So what are we to do?
We have to grab time to sleep or regroup whenever we can take it. We have to be absolutely unyielding about this.
First, look for short spans of relative calm during your day. Don’t laugh. They’re there somewhere. The key word is ‘relative’. Don’t use this time to check Facebook or do something on your ‘ought-to-do’ list.
Use it first to sit down for a couple of minutes and breathe. Take a few, slow, deep breaths. Close your eyes. Slow your breathing. Center yourself. Even if it’s just for a minute or two a few times a day, it will make an enormous difference.
When you’re more centered, preferably earlier in the day, take the list of things you think you really have to get done that day – you know, that list that is completely stressing you out – and pick three things to do today that are important but not hard. No more.
Put the rest of the list somewhere where you can’t see it. Do those three things at some point during the day. That’s a great accomplishment for one day. Practice giving yourself permission to do this guilt-free. Use the remaining time you normally spend stressing about the list or doing stuff that’s not important to instead do things to help you chill out.
Better yet, take your huge to-do list that’s been gnawing at you forever and tear off the low-hanging fruit. Ask yourself, Is this really that important? The answer much of the time is no. For the rest of it, ask yourself, Can this wait? This will take off some more items. You want to get down to the essentials. Work from your essentials list only.
Ruthlessly say no. Don’t let anyone add things to your list. Don’t volunteer for anything new unless you absolutely want to. Don’t let anyone claim any piece of your time unless you want to offer it. Tell people you’ve already said yes to that you need to back out. This may sound bad to you, but you have to take care of yourself. Once you learn how to do this, you can start adding things back in gradually.
Don’t let yourself get sucked into mindless things under the guise that they are restful either. This means don’t binge watch on Netflix, have a lot of Facebook conversations, or whatever, and automatically call them downtime. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you have to cut these kinds of things back, too.
Start with the question, Am I getting eight hours of sleep a day? If not, ask yourself, How do I start to get there from here? What can I cut out of my day? What can I let slide? Will the world end if I don’t do this thing?
It’s likely going to be a gradual transition. Maybe you can’t ever get eight straight hours of sleep. But you need your rest. You have to come up with some combination of rest and recuperation during the day that lets you function reasonably well. You can’t keep this up over the long term without it.
So many parents blow lack of sleep off as some sort of badge of courage of autism parenting. It’s not. It’s a big part of what tears us up. It keeps us from being able to be the kind of parents we want to be. Our children can’t help it if they have sleep issues. It’s up to us to find ways to get rest and take care of ourselves.
Your goal for this week is to find 30 more minutes per day in your schedule for sleep and recuperation. I don’t care how you do it. There’s a way. This perhaps is the Tough Love Week issue, but I want you all to feel better so you can handle life better.
I’d love to hear what you did and how it’s going. Feel free to drop me a line. Good luck!