Monday, April 4, 2016

Who Needs Sleep, Anyway?

Atticus is currently in one of his severe cycles of night terrors.  You may recall that they were nothing but severe for a few years, but at this point, we have days or even weeks where he only has a couple episodes a night, and sometimes not at all.  We love those nights.  Those nights are paradise.

The past couple weeks have not been paradise.

At the beginning of a more terror-strewn time, you think, Well, maybe it was just a bad night.  A few days later it's, Week, then.  Maybe it's a bad week.  Around the two week point, Derek and I begin throwing around words like "despair" and "horrific," and not in a joking manner.  It's pretty bleak.

This time around, I've been thinking about how this ever-present fatigue affects my running.  My level of perceived exertion does not reflect my actual pace in any way.  I finish my run feeling like I worked hard, then discover I was moving relatively slowly.  Running is harder when you're tired, but then, so is everything else.

At this point, thankfully, we've been dealing with our son's night terrors for so long that I know what kind of adjustments I need to make to my day in response to many consecutive nights of little sleep.  I'm getting up a dozen or more times a night, then spending a long time with a screaming-yet-asleep seven-year-old.  It is no longer strange to me to wake up on the floor of the hallway between bedrooms, or at the foot of Atticus's bed, etc, etc.  My day just can't look the same after a night like that.

Really, it reminds me of spoon theory, which you may or may not be familiar with.  It's an excellent illustration a young lady with lupus used to describe to her friend what it's like to live with chronic illness.  It's a powerful metaphor, but a little different for us, as having a child with night terrors is quite obviously different.  Atticus will most likely grow out of these.  (Pleeeeaaaase God.)  You don't outgrow lupus, or any number of other "invisible" illnesses.

I liken it more to a battery, or the symbol of a battery I can see on the bottom right hand corner of my laptop screen  right now.  Each night, my battery is mostly depleted, so I go to sleep.  In the morning, hopefully my battery is completely charged, and I'm running at 100% power.

After a bad night of night terrors, the best I can hope for is to wake up at 90% power.  But hey, 90% is fine!  I can operate at 90%!

Oh, except the effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative.  So after another night, I wake up- or I stay up because I've spent more time awake than asleep- and I'm at 80%.

Then 70% on the third morning.  And on.  And on.

Now, obviously and gloriously the human body doesn't work the same as a laptop battery.  After ten bad nights, I'm not at 0%.  I really can't tell you what my bottom threshold is, just that I function differently when I've been exhausted for a long time.  My response time is slower.  I have trouble writing.  I used the word "adjustment" up there, and it took me a solid thirty seconds for my brain to wend its way around to that very common noun.  My patience is short, and I have a tendency to snap at people, especially if they push me on anything, even if it's well-intended.  ("Hey, you should try such-and-such."  "Yeah, I can't right now, but thanks."  "No, you really should, because-" "I wasn't kidding.  I CAN'T.")  I have about one pleasant response in me for each person, and after that, I'm afraid you get to see my frustration straining at its leash to bite your face.  It's marvelous.

So what do I do?  I still run, which seems paradoxical, but although difficult, it's important to my mental health, and it helps what little sleep I do get.  When I don't exercise, I don't sleep well.  Running seems to help me fall asleep faster and improves the quality of my sleep, even after getting up multiple times a night.

I'm also more careful about what I eat.  Now, ideally, I would do this all the time, but, well, I just don't.  Me and Cheetos are like

I can't afford to do that when I'm not getting enough sleep.  If I'm not recharging my battery at night, I have to do what I can to add small amounts of energy during the day, and nutrient-dense foods are one source of fuel.

I also say "no" a lot more.  My top priorities are Derek, kids, bible study, running, and probably a couple other things I can't think of right now because so tired, so if it doesn't fall under one of those categories, it's gone for a while.  This has led to some super fun conversations after I've said I can't be involved in certain things for the time being.  The good thing is, when you're tired, you care a whole lot less.

I'm very careful with the kids.  I try to pay a lot of attention to my voice, because if I focus on my volume and tone, I find I'm less likely to get irritated or angry or impatient with them.

Now I'm going to go fuel (Noosa yogurt, you complete me), and compose an email to Atticus's teacher; when he's been running low on sleep for quite some time, he seems to hold it together for school, then falls apart when he gets home, but I need to alert his teacher, just in case.  I am happy he works so hard to behave at school, even if it makes some of our time at home a bit rough.  

Ask me if I feel the same way today at 4 PM.  I definitely won't bite your head off.


  1. This has just got to be so, so difficult to deal with. I have no solutions to offer, except to say that maybe you shouldn't look at that image of John Travolta too long (that is who that is, isn't it?) because it could make things worse.

    And the answer to your title question is You. You need sleep. I sincerely hope you are able to get some.

  2. I am so sorry. I just don't know how you guys stay sane, but I do know that all three of those kids appreciate it, and are worth it. I hope you can take good care of yourself.


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