When I was little, I always used to read before going to sleep. Right from the age of five or six, I’d have a book on the go beside my bed. That habit lasted throughout school and, later, university. In fact, it didn’t stop until around two years ago.
In 2012 I started a new job that involved working crazy hours. I would get up at 3.30 in the morning, commute to work, do a radio show and then have meetings before driving home to spend the afternoon with my toddler. In the evenings I would do my other work – my writing work. I would fall into bed at 11 o’clock, exhausted. I was too tired to read but too wired to sleep, so I’d take my phone to bed and scroll through Facebook and Twitter, or watch stupid stuff on YouTube.
Unsurprisingly, I felt like crap.
Sleep deprivation is an evil, evil thing. There’s a reason they use it as a form of torture, you know. Sleep deprivation affects your mental and physical health. But so does never giving yourself any time out. In the last few months I’ve finally learned the benefits of switching off – properly switching off – so that I sleep better and generally feel less crap.
When you’re a parent it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting your own needs last. Why would you bother taking half an hour for a bath when you could have a shower in five minutes, and use the remaining 25 to do something productive? Why sit and read a book when there are work deadlines to be met? What’s the point of watching a film when there’s a rising pile of laundry waiting to be tackled?
Because if you don’t take the time to do some of these things – for yourself and no one else – then you will go slowly mad.
When Frog was a newborn, my midwife told me, “The most important thing for a happy baby is a happy mum!” I inwardly rolled my eyes, thinking yeah, right. But now I can see how taking time out for myself and allowing a bit of indulgence probably does make me a better mum.
When I’m not running empty on sleep, I feel less snappy. When I’ve had time to read a book, I feel fulfilled. And when I’ve gone all vain and done a face pack in the bath? Well I feel a bit less scary when I look in the mirror the following morning.
One thing I’ve found in my adventures of switching off though, is that the very worst way to relax, for me, is with social media. Perhaps it’s because I use it so much for work, or perhaps it’s just because it’s all a bit noisy, but if I really want to wind down, I have to turn my phone off and make sure the laptop is put away. The temptation is too strong to get involved otherwise.
I’m the worst at suffering in silence and then taking it out on those around me. This time last year I felt constantly resentful, taken for granted and under-appreciated. I’m sure some of that was to do with the lack of sleep and my work situation, but I have to own some responsibility and accept that if I’d taken the time to switch off and take control of my own hours, then I probably wouldn’t have felt so trodden on.
That’s why these days, I look at the odd evening off, early night or cheeky weekend afternoon reading session as a necessity. They make me a better wife, mum and all-round happier person.
It sounds like one of those cheesy life coaching mantras, but if don’t take the time to properly switch off, I can never fully switch on.
Do you find taking time out important?