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Sleep: A Parent's Guide To The Impossible

by Tim Boxer 9 months ago in self help · updated 9 months ago
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Learning to control what you can, and let go of what you cannot.

As a parent with young children, sleep has become what cannabis was to my teenage self - something I dabbled in, but never quite had enough of to make a difference. Like an illicit drug in my subconscious, I know I can't just go to bed whenever I want to, even when I have a craving.

But when I do get a full night's sleep - and it did happen the other day for the first time in a long while - I wake up not only renewed, but ecstatic, about the day ahead.

Cannabis, for instance, really doesn't deal with the problem your brain and body need dealing with. And the same is true for many other things we use to mask our simple need for sleep. The strategic use of caffeine to get through the day; food, especially sugar; alcohol used solely as a relaxant; a Netflix binge, as well as 'noble' pursuits like over-working and obsessive exercise, can all be used as counterfeits to sleep.

While some of these satisfy for a moment, or an hour, and benefit me, they do not benefit my life as a whole. The next day is no better after another cup of coffee to achieve my deadline, a third doughnut at break time, or a cider to take the edge off my anxiety at the end of the day. If I can think beyond the hour and its tasks in front of me to the following day, my family responsibilities, my relationships, and above all my level of personal peace, I may well choose a different option.

The thing is, like most better options, sleep requires an investment that for most of us feels too costly: hours and hours of time.

On top of that, in my own life, an unbroken night's sleep is usually outside of my control. Nighttimes are unpredictable, elusive. At best, but rarely, they serve up a full seven hours sleep and I'm awake before anyone else. Hallelujah!

At worst, more commonly, nighttimes are like a tyranical POW camp commander who randomly decides who lives or dies, and everyone's on edge. It's a full moon and your best intention of an early night dances away with the grey moonshine stimulating all kinds of weirdness in your children until at least 1am. The following night everyone is asleep but you're in bed almost afraid to sleep, and moments after you drop off, there is a voice: "I've wet my bed". It just so happened that night, after lengthy negotiations, you agreed to let them sleep in your bed, between you and your spouse.

Sometimes you simply lie there in the stillness of 2am, but for some reason your mind is prancing around like an electrified cat. You finally realise just before wakey time that it was the coffee you had too late in the day to help you get through. Bummer.

Sleep is the real McCoy. Whilst other pursuits or substances seem to work, when you sleep, you are really unconscious, your brain is really rebuilding, and your body is really relaxing and mending.

So what should you do when something is essential, but you can't control it?

My first observation, because I have been guilty of it myself, is to never give up. If your life is overwhelming, it's probably easier just to shelve costly benefits like seven hours of sleep as, 'not possible'. I've tried and I don't want to be disappointed again. But don't let the temptation of inertia steal away from you the motivation to move forward in 2022.

For me, I've decided not to worry about those things I cannot control, and focus on what I can do.

So, with my new-found appreciation for sleep and hope-filled expectation for incremental change, these are my 2022 attitudes and actions I can control when it comes to nighttimes:


I need sleep

Sleep is an investment

Sleep is worthwhile preparing for


Wind down intense activity at least an hour bedtime

Recall the blessings of the day before falling asleep

Do not finish the day on screens or take any device into the bedroom

Do not do important / necessary tasks late at night

Do not eat after 9pm


The different between what cannabis was to my teenage self and what sleep is to me now is both need and desire. Thankfully, as a teenager, I never wanted or needed more marijuana, even though it was shamefully easy to get hold of. Conversely, sleep with its precious time-investment is something I'm growing to appreciate and nuture more than ever, yet it remains hard to get hold of.

Who knows what 2022 will hold? But if you can sleep through a crisis, I believe you can do anything.


Read next: Why You Should Kiss Through The Crisis.

self help

About the author

Tim Boxer

Tim is UK-based writer of all things family, faith and adventure.

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