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The Elusiveness of Sleep

  • Posted on August 15, 2011 at 3:19 PM

As the mother of three children with autism, each of whom have had sleep issues of their own over the years, I find that one of the unintentional—or perhaps involuntary—sacrifices I have made on behalf of my children is the benefit of a regular sleep cycle. Though it’s rarely an issue now (admittedly, we had some echoing of it early this summer), once upon a time I regularly got between three to five hours of sleep, and that’s it. (When I included that in a fiction story, my professor circled it as a potential “factual error.”) At that time, five hours was the most Willy would sleep at a time (and if he napped, his brothers were almost always awake, so I still couldn’t sleep). At that time, my husband was working, and he was depressed, so he could rarely help me get more sleep. In fact, those crazy-making months were one of the major reasons I started building a better support network.

One of the strangest things about this is that my body learned (my mind happens to disagree, but that’s another matter entirely) that it could function on three to five hours of sleep. When the need arises (as it occasionally does, even now) my body will revert back to that time-frame, over my mind’s strenuous objections.

You see, as I said, my mind disagrees with how much sleep is required. For mind to function—which, btw, is necessary for a professional writer, go figure—I need at least six (preferably seven) hours of sleep. So those times when my body kicks into sleep-dep mode, my mind is deprived of sufficient rest to do its tasks, even while my body can keep up (more or less) with the boys and the chores.

Another detrimental effect of all of this is the lack of a regular sleep pattern. I cycle between day and night, sleeping when I can and working when I can’t. I’ve tried melatonin, sleeping pills, and herbal remedies, but I can’t seem to regulate my sleep cycle for more than a week at a time.

This makes scheduling certain things rather difficult. I can’t really plan ahead and know I’ll be awake and ready to go. BUT that’s also where the 3 to 5 hours of sleep and the sleep cycle irregularities kick in. If I have something scheduled and need to be up, even if I have not succeeded on getting myself on a schedule that makes it seem right, I can usually make the temporary switch.

Predictably is the key, however, to getting certain things done, and it’s the key I lack. For instance, when I first wrote this post I slept Friday night to Saturday morning like a “normal” person. I got a good amount of sleep and was asleep at night and awake during the day. Then, I pushed myself a little late to spend some quality time with my mom, and Mark had a sleepless night, and so I went to bed at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, slept for two hours, and woke up and stayed up, because I couldn’t get back to sleep. I didn’t make it a full day. When Mark was ready to be up, I went back to sleep, and got back on the “night shift.” ***I, unintentionally sabotaged my mom’s sleep Friday night, so I wouldn’t blame her in the least for the “oops” in my sleep. Besides, it was my choice.***

The funny thing is, after my two hour nap, I was productive. I got some household work done, some writing work done, some miscellaneous work done, and I was okay. I was effective. So, basically, my body and brain are semi-erratic and rather unpredictable. But it works! Sounds kind of like my life raising children with autism.