HSPs need more sleep.

hammock in sayulita, mexico.

I need my sleep. Really I do.

At least 7.5 hours per night, preferably 9 hours to function at my best. I had a friend in high school who just didn’t need much sleep to function well- she slept 6 hours a night at the most, and woke up perky and ready to go. Her mom frowned upon sleeping in late so she used to wake her up early on Saturdays to clean the whole house as a family. My mom knew that I needed to sleep in til noon on Saturdays to catch up from the school week. She wouldn’t even think of waking me up early, probably because I would be a hypersensitive grouch the rest of the day.

Turns out, most HSPs need more rest. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron says, “HSPs do worse than others working night shifts or mixed shifts, and they recover more slowly from jetlag.”thanks for your support!

This is definitely true for me. Why is this? Maybe it’s because daily life as an HSP is so stimulating for me, I need tons of sleep (and rest and downtime) to recuperate. Maybe it’s because I can’t rely on coffee to perk me up (HSPs are generally more sensitive to caffeine). Perhaps it’s because I just can’t deal with the sensation of tiredness- the heavy, achy, almost painful feeling of sleep deprivation (HSPs often feel sensations like tiredness, hunger, and pain more intensely.)

Every new mom expects to sacrifice some sleep, but my first child’s sleep issues caused me so much stress and despair. I do believe our sleep situation (both the feeling of failure I felt when she wouldn’t sleep, and my own sleep deprivation) contributed to my postpartum depression and anxiety. Thankfully, because both of us couldn’t tolerate sleep deprivation (highly sensitive children don’t wear sleep deprivation well), it forced me to come up with solutions to our sleep issues early on. I was determined to find a compassionate yet effective sleep method to help us all get the sleep we need. I’m so grateful that both my kids are great sleepers. Not perfect sleepers, but at least I can expect to get my full 8+ hours of sleep most nights. Just because I typed that, I bet both kids will wake up tonight.  Isn’t that how it works?  Never brag about your kids on the internet!  ha.

my soothing bed.
my soothing bed.

I’m Easily Grossed Out

i'm easily gOne day, Sisi pointed out the only brown leaf on our liquid amber tree.  Leave it to a Highly Sensitive Child to notice and care about a leaf that looks slightly different than the rest.  I glanced at it, then did a double take.  There was a bronze smudge on it.  To my horror, the smudge was actually hundreds of sesame seed sized caterpillars sucking the lifeblood out of that leaf.  I wanted to throw up.  Any bug, even cute bugs like lady bugs and caterpillars, becomes disgusting in large quantities.  At least to me.  My husband didn’t think it was gross at all.

Every day since my discovery, my daily ritual is to examine these bugs with equal parts horror and fascination.  The O.G.s  have long since flown away, but I’m now noticing more of those bronze smudges all over the trees.  They are multiplying.  Hundreds of leaves munched away. There is caterpillar poop everywhere.  It’s gross.  And so interesting, but so gross.  It makes me all jittery when I see them, like they are crawling on me.thanks for your support!

I’m just easily grossed out. I always have been.  Moldy bread, ants eating a dead bug, that crusty stuff around a milk carton.  I gag!

I used to get so disturbed on rainy days as a kid because the the floor of a school bus was all wet with dirty water, smushed snails from kids’ shoes, stray hairs.  I tried to look out the window but found myself searching the floor for nastiness.  Please tell me I’m not the only one!

It’s not just sights either.  Gross sounds (swallowing, slurping, burps) can fill me with anger.  This has a term actually- misophonia.  I don’t think I have true misophonia, but I can relate to those who do.

It’s also hard for me to ignore gross smells.  My neighbors wake me up out of a dead sleep sometimes when they smoke on their porch.  I just donated several perfectly good towels because I just couldn’t get this slight mildewy smell out of them, even after many washings with vinegar and baking soda.   I can smell peoples’ saliva on Matteo’s head all the time- he’s irresistibly kissable so it’s no wonder.
baby caterpillars and eggs

Why are HSPs so easily grossed out? We are sensitive to subtle stimuli.  We notice gross things that others don’t.  And then we think about what we’ve experienced, holding onto it almost obsessively to wrap our minds around it. HSPs have stronger emotional and physical reactions to stimuli- perhaps we feel more jittery, nauseous, stressed out by gross things than the average person?  I’m just throwing these ideas out there.

Does this serve some sort of adaptive purpose?  Probably.  I can think of specific instances when my high sensitivity to gross stuff protected me. Like when I could smell mold coming from the wall (turns out we had major undetected water damage!)  I also swore I could hear very subtle scratching sounds in the walls at night that my husband didn’t hear (turns out we had rats living in the attic.)  I can smell when food goes bad much better than my husband, who gets food poisoning a lot more than I do.  But there are probably many times when this high-gross-out-factor has caused me unnecessary stress.  It also makes parenting a bit challenging.

Parenting can be gross.  I’ve had to suck it up and confront things that gross me out.  Crazy diaper blowouts, snot sucking with the nosefrida snot sucker, open wounds, and vomit all come with the territory.  My duty and love for my kids far outweighs the gross-out-factor.  I’m the adult, so I jump in and do what I need to do.

Question: I’m super curious how HSPs in the medical field deal with all the blood, bodily fluids, smells?  Did it take some time to get used to it?  How do you cope?


Disciplining a Highly Sensitive Child

disciplining a sensitive childHighly sensitive children are often extremely sensitive to tone of voice and facial expressions. A stern look or shush from an authority figure can immediately crumple their faces to tears. I knew very early on when my eldest was a baby that typical discipline measures (time outs, lectures, spanking) were not going to work for us.

Highly sensitive people usually want to do the right thing. We are rule-followers. We try hard. When we fail, we are crushed. We don’t need as much correction because we are already beating ourselves up for our mistakes. Even in high school, a stern correction from a teacher could make me sob in front of the whole class. I can remember several clear instances of this. I didn’t get in trouble often, but when I did, I was a total wreck for the rest of the day.  It was awful.

Why did I care so much? My brother was always in detention, even suspended once or twice, and didn’t seem all that phased. I understand now that my sensitivity to correction stems from my experiencing it- the disappointed look of a teacher, the harsh words of a parent, the sting of being caught, and the public embarrassment- much more intensely than the typical kid. Because of this, I tried so hard to be perfect.  But I’m a human and a sinner and perfection is not possible. My perfectionism probably made me an easier child to raise than my less sensitive brother, but it filled me with inner turmoil. I am trying hard to steer my children away from that same turmoil.

So, if I don’t lecture, spank, yell, or do time-outs, what’s left? How can we discipline children sensitively? I’m not lax in my parenting.  I run a pretty tight ship.  I have routines, rules, standards, but also allow a ton of freedom.thanks for your support!

I call it front-end discipline.  Taking a preventative approach.  Setting up the situation carefully to decrease the odds of misbehavior.

1. I set my expectations up front, clearly. Time-limits, expected behavior, spatial/behavioral boundaries. This is like 90% of discipline in our household. It takes a lot of time and effort to give a detailed rundown beforehand, but it is key to keeping the peace.

2. I pick my battles so I’m not always nagging. I offer lots of freedom within boundaries. For example, at restaurants, I often let my child choose her meal between a few healthy options I give her. I let her eat with her fingers if it’s easier for her to do so. I don’t force her to eat everything on her plate. I even let her play with her food a little (put the olives on her fingers, disassemble the casserole, stuff like that.) I know, horrible manners, we probably get judged. But I’m just not going there right now. If she sits and eats peacefully, I’m happy. As long as it’s not disruptive to those around her.

3.  There are certain realms that I just don’t enter.  It’s just not my business.  Giving kids control in these realms allows them to submit in other situations.

  • PLAY: She can play however she wants as long as no one is getting seriously hurt, she cleans up after, and abides by whatever boundaries I’ve set. I’m always baffled when I see parents butting into their kids’ play- “Honey, go on the swings now! Share your ball with Susie! Build a tower like this!” That seems like such a royal waste of energy. She knows much better than I do what is fun for her.
  • EMOTIONS: Her emotions belong to her, so I don’t discipline her for negative emotions (anger, grumpiness, jealousy.)  I discipline actions that stem from these feelings, like hitting, but not the emotions themselves.

3. If she has outright crossed my boundaries, I am calm but firm.  I calmly say, “I will not let you hit.” I don’t leave any room for argument, I simply tell her I won’t let this behavior continue. If necessary, I physically stop her (hold down her hands) or remove her from the situation if need be.  But always calmly (or at least, that’s what I aim for.)

4. Empathy, not shame. “I understand you are frustrated, and that makes you want to hit, but I will not let you.” Sometimes this sparks a tantrum, but usually it fizzles out quite quickly because a) I’ve left no room for negotiation, b) I didn’t make it personal by slathering on the guilt, c) I honestly allow so much freedom that she doesn’t feel the need to push back for very long. She accepts there are just a few big-time no nos, and that she must abide by them.

Sometimes even the gentlest correction brings forth a tantrum or tears, which makes me feel so crappy. But I don’t need to feel guilty about correcting my child so long as I did so respectfully. Correction is a part of life. I then give her a little space and say she can come to me if she needs a talk or cuddle.

5. Give them time. I find that if I give her time to choose the right, she often chooses it. If the night time routine is dragging, I will say, “Please brush your teeth and use the restroom.  If you dawdle, we may not have time to read books.” I’m simply stating the natural consequences of her actions.  99% of the time, she’ll pause, think, and then rush to the bathroom, no punishments needed.  I learned to pause and calmly wait for her to choose the right path from the amazing book Bringing Up Bebe.

Recommended Reading: I highly recommend checking out Janet Lansbury’s blog Elevating Childcare or reading her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.  Although she’s not directed at highly sensitive children per se, her ideas about respectful, empathetic parenting are especially well-suited for HSCs.

Question: Were you super sensitive to discipline as a child?  How did your parents handle it when you misbehaved, and how do you wish they’d handled it?

gentle parenting methods