Sleep deprivation is part of the parenting gig. New moms are easy to spot with their top knots and coffee tumblers. A safe bet is the top knot, make up free, coffee tumbler toting woman you see has not slept in weeks. She is wiped out.
Lack of sleep does all sorts of wacky stuff to the body. Short term effects include cognitive impairment, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, and top knot hair dos. These side effects explain why early phases of parenthood are a blur.
For caretakers of an individual with disabilities, seasons of sleep deprivation can extend well past a decade. My daughter did not sleep consistently until puberty.
With long-term sleep deprivation, the body is likely to react with memory loss, high blood pressure, weight gain, and psychiatric disorders such as depression. This is the short list.
However, the last thing you need is a reminder how sleep deprivation jacks up health. You know already. Reminders are salt in the wound.
You also do not need more advice on how to get your loved one to sleep. By now you have white noised, naturally supplemented, screen banned, diet altered and tossed a weighted blanket on the problem.
Instead, let's focus on what is happening in the darkness of these sleepless nights.
Below are ideas from a tired and foggy brain on navigating an all-nighter.
I am equally surprised as embarrassed how many years (yes years) it took me to have compassion for my daughter's sleep issues. I was awake when I wanted (needed) to be asleep, but so was she!
I am confident she was not choosing to be awake from 2:00 AM-6:00 AM. Her wake up time is 6:45 AM so it was not uncommon for her to go to school having been awake since 2:00 AM. Geezo. That sounds rough, right?
Focusing more on how tired she must feel helped me get past how tired I was. After all, have you ever had insomnia? This poor kid was having it for years and it certainly was not her choice.
Notice Who Is with You
The hours before sunrise seem sacred. Currently, my daughter is in a season of sleeping well, yet I still find myself waking before dawn so as not to miss the moment of when light pierces the darkness.
"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." - John 12:46
My father-in-law is awake for this moment almost daily. While on family vacations, we are often the only ones stirring. It may also be the only time of the day he sits still! Over the years, we have grown fond of chatting and seeing who is the first to grab the coveted coffee mug with the ugly fish. Time with him has become a special bonus of sleep deprivation. It's a gift of hard to grab time from an incredible man and mentor.
This begs the question, Who else may be around?
The easy answer is our loved one receiving care. I have found this to be a good time for us to simply feel the presence of each other. Or maybe feelings of gratitude come to mind for someone in your life. The night hours are a good time to pen a handwritten card and let them know.
Invite God to Join You
God doesn't sleep and He hears when you call His name. He wants to be invited into your experience.
"The Lord is near to all who call on him..." - Psalm 145:18
Many people practice a spiritual discipline called silence and solitude. Most picture silence and solitude as quiet time with coffee, bible, and journal but it can look different.
In fact, some people intentionally set an alarm in the middle of the night to wake and pray. They find darkness and stillness paired with a mind wanting to drift heighten receptiveness to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
While your experience is likely to be far from quiet and still, you may find God meets you in a unique way in the middle of the night.
Find Something to Do
During the first several years of sleep issues, much time was spent fighting a force that was bound to win. Techniques to get my daughter asleep were paired with me trying to find rest despite her alertness. Neither were even remotely successful.
One night we were into the 2nd hour and I started doing laundry. The next night I cleaned out old papers from the junk drawer. The next night I got really crazy and cleaned tile grout on the kitchen floor. A bucket of 30/70 white vinegar to water mixture and a toothbrush gave new purpose to the night shift.
There was something to be said about having these chores behind me when the 11:00 AM coffee wasn't strong enough. At least I could stare at the crisp white line between the tile and feel a bit of satisfaction.
Groan When Broken
I have middle of the night memories of complete and utter brokenness. With long-term sleep deprivation, we break physically and emotionally. There's nothing you can do about it because we physically need sleep.
After physically breaking, a spiritual breakthrough often follows.
One night I recall laying on the bathroom floor while my daughter was on the commode moaning. I was so tired. I just couldn't do it anymore. My body and spirit were far beyond the control capable of stopping tears.
With my face pressed against the cold tile floor, I tried to pray. I really tried but could not. I had nothing. There were no words of praise. There was no more energy to ask for His mercy. There was no clarity of how to invite God in.
All that existed in that bathroom at 3:00 AM was an 11-year-old girl moaning and a mother crying.
Then Romans 8:26 came to mind:
"And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words."
Image that! God was asking if HE could pray for me AND do so in the language being spoken in that bathroom. Wow.
Now, when the words just can't come, I know the Holy Spirit will intercede on my behalf. I let Him. I try to be aware of His presence and intercession. The moment is intimate and well suited for the bathroom floor. It requires only brokenness and submission which is perfect when that is all you have.
Having said all of the above:
My true wish for you and your loved one is rest. I hope deep rest restores your body, mind, and spirit. If the time has not yet come for mercy in that form, then I at least wish for grout lines on your tile floor to glisten in the moonlight.