Another night of a 3 a.m. wake-up call with my 6-year-old. “I just can’t sleep, Mom. I can’t turn my brain off.” The roller coaster of sleep in children seems impossible to solve. We have tried an abundance of tactics over the past several years, some work for a night, a week, or a month, but the importance of sleep keeps us coming back to the drawing board to try, try again.
We began our sleep journey around the 3.5-year-old mark. I noticed her laying awake in bed at night. When I asked her about it, she told me she does this most nights. I got a watch to monitor her sleep, and sure enough she was only getting 4-5 hours of intermittent sleep a night. Of course the lack of sleep was affecting her daytime behavior in a negative way, and I was determined to get her some help. Feeling extra guilty for not noticing sooner, we got her on the books for a sleep study at Children’s Mercy.
We were aware of sleep issues being a side effect of ADHD, but I never grasped the effects of “no sleep” on a child’s mood, behavior, and overall quality of life. The sleep study night was eye opening and determined she has insomnia with long night awakenings of 3+ hours. This was the end of the road with the sleep clinic; there isn’t anything they can do for insomnia, and we were on our own to tackle this nightly issue.
It’s easier to tell you what we have tried than what we haven’t: melatonin, magnesium, CBD for sleep, weighted blankets, essential oils, epsom salt baths, sleep music, room/pillow spray, sleeping with our dog, sleeping next to Mom or Dad, blackout curtains, a night light, Hatch noise machine, awake clock, a new mattress, various textures of sheets, a “cocoon” sheet, and the list goes on. We still pull out of this list of tricks, but have to change it up frequently to keep it fresh.
The most important habit we have found is the consistency of our bedtime routine. The nightly repetition of taking a bath to relax, reading a book or winding down with 20 minutes of TV, then heading to bed is imperative. Does this happen every night without a fight, absolutely not. Do we try to stick to this routine every night, absolutely yes.
The struggle begins to occur with the anticipation of bedtime approaching, so we try and make this a leisurely and stress free time. We put the ball in her court to help her feel in control — “You get to choose a bath or a shower,” to initially get her upstairs. She picks out her pajamas, and we alternate books and TV. Some will argue that TV before bed ramps kids brains up; for her, she can compartmentalize, zone out, and it calms her down.
I learned some vital information from the CMH sleep clinic, there are two types of sleep issues.
Sleep onset (falling asleep) and Sleep Maintenance (staying asleep once you have fallen asleep). We have issues with both. Once we get her to sleep and turn her little brain off, our goal is how best we can get her to stay asleep.
We have found that if we use melatonin, it builds up a tolerance in her system and begins to have the opposite effect and hypes her up. When this happens, we stop using it cold turkey for a couple months, then we can go back to using it for a few weeks. In addition to melatonin, we lay in her dark room with Spotify playing the “Deep Sleep” playlist and scratch her back. Once she she has dozed off, usually 20-40 minutes, we put a weighted blanket over her and say a little prayer she has a good night’s sleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night to your downstairs TV blaring, all the lights on, and an angry 6-year-old eating goldfish is what poor sleep maintenance looks like. It’s heartbreaking to watch your kiddo want to sleep so bad, but be unable to settle down. It takes some negotiation tactics in a very monotone voice to get her back to her room or to get her settled on the couch. We try the “going to bed” routine first, then just end up sleeping with her the rest of the night. If both of these attempts fail, there are many days she is just awake from 3 or 4 a.m. into the day.
These days are the most trying. I can hardly function as an adult on minimal sleep — it’s impossible to imagine being in her sleep deprived mind. Running on empty, she is having to “hold it together” all day at school until we try bedtime again.
On the days we can get her back to sleep, I mark that as a major win in my book. Her mood and behaviors with a good night’s sleep are, night and day. It is encouraging to know that the extra effort put in by Mom and Dad in the middle of the night can change the trajectory and quality of her entire day.
From one tired mama to another, I know sleep is important and essential. We’ve all got to support each other and keep the sleeping conversation going.
Would love to hear any sleep tactics or stories you have experienced!