Many exceptionally gifted children have trouble sleeping at night because their minds do not shut off enough for sleep to come.
D.V. Lovecky, “Hidden gifted learner: The exceptionally gifted child”
Parents of gifted kids often realize in retrospect that the sleep challenges their kids faced as infants and toddlers were the earliest signs of their children’s’ giftedness. From birth, the constant need for stimulation, the craving for novelty, and the drive to learn interfere with a child’s ability to rest. Parents of gifted kids whose willingness or ability to take a nap never existed or withered at 18-months look with jealous bewilderment at children who must be weaned off afternoon naps before starting full-day kindergarten programs at 5 years old.
It isn’t just gifted children who have trouble with turning their brains off. Gifted adults struggle with this as well.
As we get older, we find ways to get enough sleep – maybe not enough sleep to be truly rested, but enough to get by. But many of us continue to struggle with rest.
Far too often, the cultural story we hear that reinforces rest as an important part of enjoying a fulfilling life goes something like this.
I worked all the time through my kids’ childhood, missing the first words, the early walking, the sports games and dance recitals because I thought my work was more important. When I was diagnosed with cancer and my doctor told me that with aggressive treatment, I might make it another 5 years, but the likelihood was that I had a year, I stopped. I just stopped. I quit work. I gave up my networking and client meetings. I connected with my family and made sure I was with them for all the time I had left. I was transformed by connecting with them. Cancer has been the greatest gift life has ever given me because it forced me to slow down and become present.
But, it shouldn’t have to be that way. We need to find ways of resting, slowing down, and connecting with the important things in life without dying or nearly dying.
Many of us need permission to rest. We place our value on what we have done or what we are doing and worry that we will cease to be valuable if we cease to produce. We fear that rest will somehow translate into a deep failure from which we can never recover.
For many gifted adults, work is a cover for existential questions. Being too busy to think means being too busy to face the underlying questions that plague many gifted people – in the face of all we know from science and history, what is the point of being;? Humans are a drop in the cosmic bucket with destructive tendencies that lead to war and strife through all of known history; why should we go on? How can our lives have meaning or purpose? If we never rest, we never have to face those questions.
For me, my fear of resting manifests in my use of social media. Now that I carry a computer in my pocket, I can always fill my time by being active on Facebook. I have many other bright friends on Facebook who also fill their time sharing fascinating things, so I delude myself into thinking I am thinking about important and interesting things, but in reality I am thinking for the sake of thinking.
I have challenged myself this summer to put the smart phone down and find real ways to rest more deeply and more often. And, I am discovering that when I do, I play more, smile more, and connect with my family with more joy.
I need to honour my body’s need for rest to live fully. It isn’t always easy. As I protect sleep for my kids for their growth and well-being, I must protect rest for myself.
This summer, are you finding ways to rest?
Kate is the founder of ImprovLiving: Improve Your Life with the Power of Improv and writes about creativity and story-telling as tools for making sense of the world at www.katearmsroberts.com.