Getting Help for Sleepless Nights

Our story of sleepless nights has been 4.5 years in the making with our sweet but tricky boy, Gage. It’s amazing when I think back on how this truly all started when he was just itty bitty.

I will spare you the first couple of years in mass detail by giving you the summary: Gage was born, cried 24/7 and did not sleep. We identified food intolerances and that helped with day time sleep mainly. Gage finally slept through the night at 18 months and then remained inconsistent until present day (and by inconsistent, I mean up over 50-75% of the time at night, if not every night). He will be five in the fall.

Working with our pediatrician, we had his iron tested which was low so we have been supplementing for over a year. We noticed no difference.

We’ve always had a consistent bedtime routine, all the things you should do. We’ve tried sound machines, podcasts, a weighted blanket, different lighting, OK to Wake clocks… you name it. In my gut, I just knew we were stuck. We were exhausted, both mentally and physically.

In the fall of 2021, I called our pediatrician to be referred to Children’s Mercy Sleep Clinic because Mama was not messing around anymore. Something had to change. We met with Dr. David Ingram to get started and identify any obvious things we could change. As a mom, it always feels good to have an expert tell you you’re doing the right things already so he suggested a formal sleep study, as well as an appointment with Dr. Kevin Smith, behavioral sleep psychologist.

My gut kept saying that this was not a biological or physical issue but a behavioral one. We opted to put a pause on doing the sleep study and wait to meet with Dr. Smith. We first saw him on Zoom and oh my goodness, he was the real deal! An incredible doctor, listener, encourager, and had very helpful insights.

Dr. Smith helped us identify why the behavior (getting up and coming in our room multiple times) was continuing. It seemed obvious, but his guidance helped us to see how we were unintentionally perpetuating the situation. In the past, any form of reward has not been effective because the desired reward was me. Being physically with me. Gage would slide into my side of the bed and half of the time I wouldn’t notice, giving him a 50% success rate. Dr. Smith likened his behavior to playing the slots: if you know that even one in 10 times you’re going to have success, you might keep playing. And Gage was COMMITTED to win.

He helped us to see that we needed to ensure Gage’s success rate was 0% all of the time. To help with this, we shut our door and put bells on the handle to help me hear when he would come in.

Dr. Smith also had us start a sticker chart with Gage. He gets one sticker each day for staying in his bed all night. He also got to decorate a shoe box and put some treasures inside. I took him to a thrift store and let him pick a few bags of random toys. The sticker chart is nice because as parents, we can see actual progress. Sometimes I’ll even make a note on a particular day to discuss with Dr. Smith at our next visit.

Between visits with Dr. Smith, we had had a lot of success. One week though, when Gage had a few bad nights in a row, I put in an SOS call to Dr. Smith. He called me back to discuss.

He identified this abrupt backward progress as an extinction burst: a time where kids will give something their best effort to NOT do what they’re supposed to. This was extremely encouraging to me, as I felt like we had made all this progress and were sliding back into the trenches. He also helped identify that when Gage would come in, he was still getting something out of it even if he wasn’t in our bed — I was walking him back to his room and tucking him back in. Dr. Smith said Gage was now accepting that as better than nothing, and I needed to curb that, as well.

We told him that starting that night, if he came in our room, we would remind him to go back to bed then Dad would walk him to his door and wait while he tucked himself back in. It worked!

This has been a long road, and we are still on the road to better sleep for all of us. Dr. Smith could tell we were struggling and assured us that we were doing the right thing, and were closer to the edge of the forest than we thought we were. We will continue to follow up with him until we are in a consistent groove of consistent nighttime success.

I am so glad I finally decided that we needed more help than any friend advice, book, blog, or podcast could give us and called Children’s Mercy.  I am so grateful to the team and especially Dr. Kevin Smith for his support and guidance as we get our guy on the right track.  If you’re struggling, please know how wonderful this resource is here right in our own city and give them a call. You aren’t alone and better nights are ahead.


 

Sleep is a very important for children as they grow and develop. During the sleep process, children are producing hormones which help your child grow bigger and stronger. Poor sleep can negatively impact a child’s ability to concentrate and result in problems at school and home. Severe sleep disorders can even impact other health areas, such as blood sugar levels and brain development.Children's Mercy Kansas City Logo

The Children’s Mercy Sleep Center is one of the largest pediatric programs in the country with the only accredited pediatric sleep lab in the region. Our team can help evaluate and treat sleep disorders in children, helping you and your child to have a better night’s sleep. Find more information about the Sleep Center at Children’s Mercy by visiting cmkc.link/sleep.

Hi! I'm Megan, former teacher turned stay-at-home-but-never-home mom to Peyton, 7, and Gage, 4. I host the Kansas City MomCast podcast! I'm married to the most patient person on this earth, Chris, and we live in Overland Park with our kids, an insane lab, and two guinea pigs. You can find me over committing to everything, reading informational and self-help texts, listening to podcasts, organizing, spending time with friends over margaritas, thrifting, and staying up way too late to have peace and serenity. I love people and hearing their stories and look forward to connecting with KCMC readers!