Coping with Sleep Deprivation for Special Needs Families

By – Tina Baily (Twitter @TheMotherGeek)

As a special needs family, some days can be stressful, intense and very very long. Our chances to take a break or have child free time can be pretty much none existent.

People frequently say “I don’t know how you do it”. For me, that’s easy. Love. I will do everything I can to look after my children. If that means surviving on 2 broken hours of sleep a night, I will. At least for as long as I can.

In the past few years, my husband and I have developed a few ways to push through the sleep deprivation, and make our days easier. Our eldest child, Sam is 4 and has low functioning Autism. Our youngest child is 3, and she was a terrible sleeper, until recently.

Sensory LightsMy first sanity saver has been buying Sam a single bed with a pull-out guest bed underneath it. This means that on the nights when he wants me with him, I can just pull out the spare mattress and snuggle up near enough to soothe him, without lying on the floor or taking up half of his bed. This has been worth it’s weight in gold when he’s been poorly.

Sam has Sensory Processing Disorder and likes pressure. He used to wake a lot in the middle of the night, and be up for hours on end. A few people suggested we get him a weighted blanket, but our Paediatrician said these are not recommended for overnight use. In the end, we got Sam a 15 tog feather duvet. This is really heavy, so he sleeps well underneath it. The duvet is also breathable, so he doesn’t sweat under it. On really hot nights, we put the fan on, so he is kept cool.

A Blackout Blind is also a must have in the Summer for us. The second Sam wakes up, he is up for the day. If the room is dark, he will lie quietly in bed, watching his sensory lights on the walls and ceiling while I get a sneaky extra hour’s sleep in.

Sam is still in nappies, and loves to remove them. I have managed to prevent this by putting zip up onesies on him, back to front so he can’t get to his nappy. This is more for my benefit than Sam’s, as it prevents the 3am bed changes when he’s leaked everywhere, after removing his nappy.

Caffine saves the daySome days, I am too tired to function. I used to hate this, but now I accept that it is part of our “normal”. I have a stack of books / stickers / iPad games and DVDs on standby to keep the kids entertained on days when I need to take it easy and look after myself.

Having people to talk to who understand is also a great tonic. There are lots of great special needs communities out there now. Search on Facebook or twitter for #specialneeds and you’ll find lots of people who understand. The #AutismMom hashtag on Twitter or instagram is a great place to find other Autism mums.

Finally…. Caffeine! I am a huge fan of coffee and cake. I find it to be the perfect mid-morning pick-me-up. (It’s also good during mid-afternoon…. or at 4am)…!

Someone said to me a while ago that if I didn’t start taking care of myself, I wouldn’t be fit enough to look after the kids. That stuck with me. Sometimes leaving Daddy in charge while I have an hour of peace, soaking in the bath can feel like the biggest indulgence in the world.

So, these are a few of my go-to sleep deprivation hacks… what are yours?


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