No sleep til: Insomnia is the parenting challenge of the week

If you’ve had problems sleeping through the night this week, you are definitely not alone. It seems like everyone, whether their kids are in school right now or are still waiting to go back (or are waiting to find out when they’re going back [insert bitter laugh here]) just can’t sleep. This countrywide insomnia is been the topic of my morning little encouraging #survivingschool video on my Instagram story and the topic of this morning’s email in the fall morning email series, and we’re going to spend more time working on it next week in the fall support group.

Why is it so pervasive right now, and why does it feel worse right now than regular old insomnia does? Timing, and perception.

It’s pervasive because it’s a stressful time of year anyway, with summer ending and school starting, but it’s even worse this year with the pandemic and school all screwed up and our jobs in flux and endangered because of the demands of school. The pandemic stress is putting people in physical discomfort, too, even people who never had pain conditions before, so of course this stress is messing with your body and functioning.

It feels worse right now because we’re all stretched so tightly that even one night of not sleeping well can cause a disaster in our lives. Most of us are holding things together with painter’s tape (instead of the usual duct tape), so if we waste a day zoned out because we didn’t sleep, we get even more behind and even more brittle and fragile. Which then makes the stakes of sleeping higher, which makes it more difficult to sleep.

This has all the beginnings of a black swan event (this is a term poplarized by Nicholas Nassim Taleb in a book about the market crash of 2008, and it means any event: that is so rare that it’s difficult to predict it, that turns into a catastrophe, and that people retroactively claim they predicted it), if we’re being honest. What if all the parents in the country can’t sleep for a month and everything grinds to a halt as we all lose function completely?

Well, so let’s not let that happen. I have no magical powers to make anyone start sleeping through the night, so let’s go at it from the front end. If the consequences of missing a lot of sleep one or three or ten nights are minimal, then we won’t feel as bad in general, and it’ll be easier to start sleeping again or to figure out things that help us sleep more. (Do you remember when your kids were tiny and the idea of sleeping all the way through the night was not even remotely achievable, so you changed your standards and were able to function on minimums? What was your minimum back then? Mine was five hours in a row or a chunk of four hours and one of three hours.)

Can you reprioritize your work so you identify what absolutely has to get done so that your team doesn’t fail and you don’t get fired? And then focus on doing that at the time of day before you start to feel like a zombie? (Or even in the middle of the night, if you’re going to be awake anyway? What if it’s a feature, not a bug?)

If you have another adult in the house or close enough to be helpful (hint: friends are good for this, too), can you split up house stuff so food and laundry is happening without anyone’s brain power being wasted on it? (You can go for a long time letting other house stuff slide if you’re eating and have clean underwear.)

What’s the minimum compliance your kids have to do to fly under the radar at school? And what’s the minimum amount of help/scaffolding/shepherding from you they need to hit that minimum? Is there another adult in your life who could do some of that shepherding? (People who aren’t active duty parents are shockingly not all that stressed out about managing online school and might be happy to hang virtually with your kid for a bit while they organize homework or troubleshoot Zoom backgrounds or whatnot.) Are your kids old enough that you can have them help each other and loop you out of it?

Basically, how can you make your life easier by lowering your standards and shortcutting for the first six weeks of school so you can get through it even if you aren’t sleeping enough? Remember, this is the year when no one’s going to learn much or achieve much. So decreasing the energy you spend is the 2020 power play, not increasing achievement. It’s super-worth spending some time this weekend to think about how to get just enough done that you can recover for the next day.

There has never been a better time to write the aphorism “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly” on a post-it and stick it crookedly on your monitor.

I, personally, know you can struggle through these first few weeks. You can do it.




Photo by Karolina Kolacz