Dealing with insomnia can make life feel very lonely. Often family members don’t really understand, and they may find that it disrupts their own lives, or may feel frustrated because they can’t help. In other cases family members’ behaviour is a root cause of the problem. How can you reduce these stresses and strains and prevent your problems from multiplying?
Talking about Insomnia
Happy families are built on good communication, and insomnia is an issue that needs to be talked about if you want your family to help. Often family problems develop because we feel our loved ones ought to notice what we’re going through, so we don’t tell them. For people who have never suffered from insomnia, though, it can be hard to recognise the signs. All they’ll see is you getting more withdrawn and irritated, and they’ll need to know this isn’t their fault.
Explaining insomnia to young children can be particularly difficult. It’s natural for them to be very self-centered and focused on the present. The best approach is usually to talk to them when they are exhausted and have agreed that they want a nap. You can then explain that this is how you feel a lot of the time. Timing your explanation like this will make it easier for them to relate it to their own experience.
If you have difficulty getting older family members to accept that you suffer from insomnia, it may be helpful to take them along with you when you visit your doctor, to demonstrate that the problem is serious. Encourage them to read about the debilitating effects of insomnia in books and on the internet.
Family Noise and Insomnia
Often crying infants and teenagers playing loud music can present a serious problem when you struggle to get to sleep. If you have chronic insomnia, however, you’re also likely to be more sensitive to noises that aren’t really very loud, and this can make your reactions seem unreasonable. Try to get a second opinion before you get angry with your family about noise issues.
Of course, if you are woken easily even by minor noises, it is still reasonable to ask your family to respect your problems and keep the noise down at certain times. You may want to consider swapping rooms with another member of your household so that you’re not next door to the main source of noise. If your partner is noisy, try going to bed after they do so they don’t wake you as you come in. Remember that snoring can often be treated.
Family Responsibilities and Insomnia
If you’re not getting enough sleep, keeping up with your family responsibilities can be difficult. It’s important to discuss this early and honestly. If, for instance, you usually take care of household paperwork but you are suffering from memory lapses and difficulties concentrating, it may be best to hand that job over to someone else and take on less critical tasks in return.
If you have young children in the house, it’s important to put safety first. Because you may become tired and not remember where you put things, make sure dangerous items are never left where children can reach them, even temporarily. If you’re out with the kids, resist the temptation to sit down when you get tired, in case you phase out and are unable to keep an eye on them.
Finding the energy to look after children is hard when you’re insomniac, but good planning can help you to work around many problems. Work out when your kids are likely to be most energetic and plan activities that will tire them out without doing the same to you, such as getting them to compete (against themselves or each other) at physical games. Switch to activities that require their concentration – such as drawing or building things out of lego – when they’re ready to be quiet.
Having sleep difficulties does not mean you can’t be a good parent. The truth is that most families have some problems, and if you love your kids and make an effort for them, they’ll realise that.