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5 Easy Ways to Beat Fatigue as a Special Needs Parent

Updated: May 26, 2023

man yawning

Fatigue? What's that? I've never been fatigued a day in my life, said no special needs parent ever!

I know that many, if not most, of my posts, are aimed at getting and keeping kids with special needs healthy but I feel like I've been neglecting an important part of that process: YOU!

I'm not just a doctor who works closely with the special needs population, I am also a special needs mother and I've found myself on the wrong end of energy more times than I care to admit.

So what's a special needs parent to do when you've found that you haven't slept for the 8th night in a row because of meltdowns or hospitalizations, you don't have the time to plan out a healthy meal, and the increasingly stronger coffee just isn't cutting it anymore?

Turn to naturopathic medicine, that's what!

Using some simple naturopathic tips can help improve your energy and beat fatigue even if you're only getting 3 hours of sleep per night (which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later).

As a caveat, these tips are helpful for overall health but nothing, and I really do mean nothing, can replace the foundations of health: great diet, good quality sleep, healthy living arrangements, connecting with God and nature, and enjoying fulfilling relationships.

With that said, here are 5 ways to beat fatigue when you have no time or energy to do so:

assorted doughnuts covered in sprinkles

1. Beat Fatigue by Skipping The Sugar

What's the first thing that you tend to do when you're stressed? If you're anything like me then you might just reach for a doughnut or a candy bar, especially in the late afternoon when you feel a crash coming on.

That's the absolute one thing that you DON'T want to do. Junk food high in carbs tends to release huge spikes of insulin into the bloodstream. Over a period of time, increased amounts of insulin can lead to insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body (muscle cells, liver cells, etc) doesn't respond to insulin well anymore. Insulin is the hormone that brings glucose (blood sugar) from the bloodstream and into the cells for them to use for fuel.

If your cells aren't getting the glucose they need to function and the glucose is staying in the bloodstream, then you're going to feel fatigued. Your body won't have any energy to function. High carb snacks also tend to lead to an increase in inflammation in the body [1]. Increased inflammation leads to, you guessed it, even more insulin resistance and soon you've got type II diabetes and you don't know why.

So instead of grabbing a doughnut or a sugar-filled coffee when you feel fatigued, opt instead for a simple protein snack with a little fat like cheese sticks and guacamole or a boiled egg, shredded red cabbage, and hummus. These snacks will stabilize your blood sugar and you won't feel a crash later on.

In fact, you'll find that you have a steady source of energy instead of a short burst followed by fatigue. But, I have cravings for high carb goodness when I'm super stressed, you protest! I'm right there with you. How do you beat those cravings? With water and the right supplements!

water filer pouring clean water into a glass

2. Banish Dehydration

Let's face it, most special needs parents would rather have a glass of wine than a bottle of water. Am I right? But is that what your body really needs? while it's nice to unwind with a glass of Riesling (my personal favorite), it's probably not the best especially when you are already suffering from fatigue.


While alcohol can be soothing it does have a diuretic effect on the body. Diuretics are a class of chemicals that cause the body to excrete more water. More water excretion can lead to becoming dehydrated and dehydration leads to fatigue [2].

Dehydration not just causes fatigue, it can contribute to brain fog, confusion, and increased feelings of sleepiness. In fact, one study showed that when people who naturally didn't drink a lot of water started drinking more water, their levels of fatigue, brain fog, and feelings of sleepiness improved[3].

That's pretty good just from drinking some more water right?

Most recommendations suggest that you drink half your body weight in oz of water a day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then you should drink 75 oz of water a day.

baby falling asleep on a mother

3. Take Micronaps

Sleep is the one thing that we special needs parents can find impossible to get enough of. Between restless children and an endless to-do list, getting 8 hours of quality sleep a night seems like an elusive dream.

But, even if you've found that it's been hard to get enough sleep, you can still beat fatigue with micro napping.

Micronapping, also called power napping, is the practice of taking short naps around 20 minutes long to improve health. Micro napping has been proven to be helpful in improving memory, performance, productivity, and even attention[4].

Taking shorts naps not only improves health but also stops harmful sleeping also called microsleep. Microsleep is short fragments of sleep that occur in short periods of time (1-15secs) that can have disastrous consequences.

Microsleep happens when you are fatigued and your body hasn't been allowed to rest.

Have you ever been tried and driving down a long dark road with no one around? Suddenly you find that you don't remember the last few moments of driving. That was probably because of microsleep.

Taking micro naps, or power naps prevents microsleep and helps kick fatigue to the curb. The best thing about micro napping is that it doesn't seem to interfere with nighttime sleep and even acts to restore hippocampal function [5].

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps with memory and learning.

While studies on napping benefits have ranged from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, sometimes we don't have that much time. Try napping for 20 minutes to beat fatigue and give your brain a boost.

women meditating

4. De-stress

Fatigue and stress seem to go hand in hand. While many parents will attribute their stress to being fatigued, it's quite possibly the other way around.

Having chronic unresolved stress seems to be a mainstay of special needs parenting but did you know that it's making your fatigue worse?

Long-term stress causes a dysfunction of the HPA-axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). The HPA-axis is a complex interconnected network between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys.

When you experience a stressor, your hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone which stimulates the anterior pituitary (a gland in the brain) to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

The release of ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps support the body during stressful situations by enhancing the brain's use of glucose and curbing any bodily functions that wouldn't be necessary for a non-emergency setting.

When the HPA-axis is functioning optimally, your body is able to respond positively to stress like increased awareness, improved cognition, and more energy. The problems arise when long-term stress isn't resolved or dealt with properly.

Long-term stress negatively influences the HPA-axis causing an increase in cortisol secretion and a decrease in cortisol breakdown. This excess amount of cortisol in the body leads to fatigue [6].

Finding a way to de-stress, whether it's a 5-minute breathing exercise or a jog in the park, will help reduce your fatigue.

a variety of herbs on a dish

5. Try Adaptogens

Adaptogens are herbs that help to modulate the body's homeostatic responses. Basically, these herbs can help bring your body in balance. Adaptogens work in a number of different ways on a number of different organs and organs systems to improve the body's response to stress which improves overall health and fatigue.

Studies show that regular adaptogen use helps with central nervous system (CNS) function and cognition, cardiovascular function, liver function, improves mood, reduces free radical damage, and banishes fatigue! [7]

What's more, is that many adaptogens have been found to be very safe when taken long-term.

Some of the most well-known adaptogens include Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng, and Schizandra.

Rhodiola not only improves fatigue but enhances brain function, protects against free radical damages, is an anti-inflammatory, and improves mood especially for those in a depressive state.

Siberian Ginseng or Eleutherococcus is a cognitive enhancer, blood sugar regulator, anti-inflammatory, and immune booster in addition to its fatigue-fighting properties.

Schizandra, my personal favorite, protects cardiovascular health, liver health, gastrointestinal health, protects against free radical damage, and is an anti-inflammatory, while helping you fight off fatigue.

Always be sure to talk to your naturopathic doctor to see which adaptogen is best for you.

If you've been fighting fatigue, try these easy tips to banish fatigue and start living again!

Are you tired of feeling fatigued? Book an appointment with me today to find out how I can take you from feeling exhausted to energetic!


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