To mark Self-Care Week, which starts today, I’m revisiting my series The Seven Components of Self-Care, which first ran from February to April 2015. Nearly two years on, I’ve re-read and updated it a bit, and will be reposting it every day this week. Join in the discussion in the comments or on Twitter using #selfcareweek.
I’m starting with sleep, one of my favourite ways to look after myself. Pre-children, I was a nine hours a night kinda girl. These days I average about seven and a half, which frankly is Just Not Enough. On days where I don’t get to sleep until 11.00pm and am awake at 5.30am (not desperately unusual) I function through the fog but am all too aware that the therapeuticness of my parenting is considerably compromised. I get grumpy way too easily. I say no a lot to what are ultimately harmless requests (‘Can we pour lentils all over the carpet, Mummy?’), which makes the children grumpy too. I’m less inclined to look after myself in some of the other ways, such as getting enough exercise and seeing friends for support, because The Duvet Is My Friend.
Why it matters
Sleep is such a fundamental part of looking after yourself that it is foundational to everything else. Without enough sleep our ability to regulate our own emotions effectively is impaired, our judgement is less good, our thinking becomes foggy and functioning in the world is just that much harder.
The Mental Health Foundation says sleep is ‘as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.’ You can read their guide ‘Sleep Matters: The Impact of Sleep on Health and Wellbeing’ here.
One of the problems we face is that society glorifies busyness and productivity, so we can feel guilty, lazy and unproductive if we prioritise sleep. However, as adoptive parents we are working harder than many during our waking hours – managing behaviour, predicting problem situations and working out the best way through them, disciplining appropriately, with a few meetings and some life story work thrown in for good measure! While we’re doing all this, it is important to be well rested and well regulated ourselves, in order to help our children learn this skill. If we have had the right amount of sleep we at least start out with a fighting chance of being able to juggle these things, instead of it feeling as though we are wading through treacle.
If I had to give just one piece of advice to new adoptive parents it would be to prioritise self-care, especially sleep, because pretty much everything is easier with a good night’s sleep in the tank, and no one else is going to make sure you get it.
How? When? Where?
In the Meadows household our children usually sleep for eleven hours a night, roughly 7.00pm to 6.00am, though we have been through a few phases of them waking earlier. The crash of magnetic letters being poured from their container on to the wooden floor in the room next to ours at that time of day does not make my heart sing with joy at the prospect of early-morning literacy, I’m afraid.
[Update: we eventually swapped Charlotte’s bedroom with our home office because of the pre-dawn noisiness. This has helped considerably.]
Once I’m awake I find it very hard to get back to sleep, so I brace myself for a day of muddling through while fantasising about naps. Bedtime for me in an ideal world is about 9.00pm, and I like to be asleep before 10.00pm in order to have the best chance of a decent kip. It’s rare for me to return to the sub-duvet paradise after the school run, though it has happened a few times in desperate cases and I heartily recommend it. I have also phoned my mum in desperation and asked her to have the girls for the day so I can sleep after a night of clearing up vomit and tending to ill children.
Now that our girls have been with us for two years, we are starting the process of acclimatising them to the idea of sleepovers elsewhere. I recognise that for some families it will take much longer and in others it will not be a difficult issue. But for ours now feels right. We’re starting this weekend with two nights all together at my in-laws. Assuming all goes well, we’ll then plan another date for them to stay over without us sometime between now and Easter, and then a blissful lie-in will be ours!
[Update: this has been a success. We now manage to synchronise sending one child to each set of grandparents simultaneously for two nights every couple of months – they behave much better one-to-one and it’s much easier for everyone to manage. Next month we’re going to try five days/four nights for the first time. We. Cannot. Wait.]
There are two other strategies we’ve tried. One is going away and having my parents stay overnight in our room, so that things stay relatively normal for the girls. They’ve managed this reasonably well and we have been able to have one night away for our wedding anniversary six months after placement, and two nights away last year. It took a massive amount of planning, but we did it (It. Was. Amazing.) and they survived. We’ve also established a routine of each taking a weekend out alone every few months to recharge and do our own thing. I am a fan of a certain budget hotel chain’s £29-a-night deals and find that a couple of days’ solitude to read, sleep, think without interruption and just be is often exactly what I need.
[Update: Ironically, I’m revisiting this post having stayed up until 1.00am to watch the start of the US election results and am operating through a fog of overtiredness today. I still struggle to get more than seven and a half hours’ sleep a night, but I am getting much better at taking daytime naps wherever I can get them.]
What are your thoughts on the importance of sleep to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have strategies such as sneaking in naps or managing weekend lie-ins? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting part two of the series – support.