As a sleep consultant for kids with special needs, I stress to my families just how important a good night’s rest is for their child. Sleeps gives them energy for therapy, keeps the brain organized and growing, keeps them healthy, and more!
But I know for the special needs parent, getting a good night’s rest can be challenging. Or, (more likely) it’s been at the end of your priority list since your child came into the world. Many parents like you had to sleep with one eye open and make sure your little one was breathing okay, or to watch the monitor. Chances are, you’ve spent hours up at night looking into the next new therapy, reading discussion boards, and more.
For a special needs parent, searching for answers and being your child’s advocate has probably led to many sleepless and worry-filled nights.
But, to be the absolute best support for your child your sleep is important, too. You’re not only a parent — you’re a teacher, therapist, driver, financial planner, amateur lawyer, nurse, and more. Your child with special needs must have a well rested parent.
To keep the plates spinning, taking time to slow things down and recuperate is a very important and often ignored step. You cannot afford to be exhausted, sick, aching, and depressed — a good night’s rest can help with all those things.
Ready to give sleep a chance? Here are 5 tips for a more restful night:
Plan for tomorrow, today: when there are so many balls to juggle, getting to bed and totally relaxing is almost impossible. Can’t remember if you’re seeing OT, or PT tomorrow? Or, is tomorrow the visit with the doctor? One very simple thing you can do is take 5 minutes to sit and plan out the next day. Write up your schedule, errands, etc. Getting it out on paper gets it out of your head. You know what to expect tomorrow, so (hopefully) there won’t be anything that jolts you out of bed at 4am. Bonus: after writing your schedule for tomorrow, write one thing you were grateful for today. It puts you in a more positive headspace before the day is through.
Make your own bedtime routine: once your child is finally asleep, it’s time to take off the “mommy” or “daddy” cap. The time before you go to bed, fill this time with things that you really enjoy doing. Has that copy of Gone Girl been sitting by the bedside table, collecting dust? Carve out a little reading time. Love curling up on the couch with a cup of tea? Get the kettle going. Bedtime routine is your time — prioritize it. Stay off of social media and out of parents’ groups. This is your one time where you can indulge yourself a bit.
Turn off the screens: as I mentioned above, I know a lot of times parents are staying up super late researching for their child. I know, because a lot of parents looking for sleep help for their kids are writing me at 3am. But, the blue light from a screen is tricking your brain into thinking it’s day time and suppresses the release of melatonin in the system. You’ll find it harder to wind down and stay asleep. And, if you’re looking into things that could cause stress, anxiety, or worry, it’s best to put it away. I recommend cutting screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. And, that’s a rule the whole family can stick to.
Get moving! Similarly to sleep, physical activity is often one of the first things that gets the chopping block when our lives get too busy. But, it’s important for a good night’s rest. Studies have shown that just 3 hours of walking a week can have a real positive impact on adult sleep quality. In addition, physical activity increases the flow of happy hormones, and can be a secret weapon against stress. Start with just the goal above – get out walking 20’ a few times a week and take it from there. If you’ve been meaning to get back to that Zumba class, or your local flag football meetup, ask your partner or a friend to watch your child during that time. It’s easier said than done, but it’s a great time for you to destress.
Make your room your sleep cave: for any parent, the day can be really chaotic. To sleep in a room that also exudes chaos will make it harder for anyone to get a good night’s rest. The last time my husband and I moved, I had boxes of clothes in our bedroom…for months. As soon as they were gone, I actually enjoyed getting into bed again. And, it’s because those boxes weren’t staring me in the face! So, take a moment to look at your room — is it really your own? Take a little time to clean the clutter, get a new comfy blanket, or just get rid of your kid’s toys. If your sleep space radiates calm and relaxation, you’ll feel more of a desire to get into bed.
For special needs parents, it is easy to make the excuse that you cannot do these things. You may be thinking, “Who’s got time for this anyway?” When you are the giver of time, love, and energy, it can feel like there is little in reserve for you. But, by taking one thing to prioritize for yourself, you’re doing good for your own sanity and soul.
If you’ve made the decision to try and get some more sleep, pat yourself on the back. You deserve it! Start by taking one of these tips and implement it. When that’s going well, then make time for the next step. Rome was not built in a day, and everyone’s journey for a better night’s rest is different. But, everyone in your family will benefit when you are getting a few more zzz’s.
Melissa’s Podcast Episode can be found here!