Monday, April 7, 2008

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

I have failed miserably at one of the responsibilities of parenting – teaching my children good sleeping habits. It certainly hasn’t been for lack of trying though. I have done most if not all of the things that parenting ‘experts’ recommend. My children have always had specific bedtime schedules, and because of my well-honed OCD tendencies, we almost never veer from those schedules. My house is quiet and calm in the evening. Sugar is limited or not available at all. No video games are allowed and no disturbing television shows are on. The house is not too hot or too cold. Everyone is bathed and clean, and extra attention is given to calming routines such as using lavender lotion following a bath. Books and quiet activities are encouraged after dinner, and everyone is well fed. So why won’t my children sleep through the night?

If this were only a problem with Ashley I could attribute it to her deafblindness – the whole getting days and nights mixed up thing. But it involves all my children. My oldest son, Chip, didn’t sleep through the night as an infant until he was 15 months old. He wouldn’t go to sleep up until he was 8 years old unless I was in the room with him. I know, I know – many strategies exist for breaking that habit. I tried them. He would just always come into my room later in the night and sleep on the floor beside my bed. I wouldn’t know he was there until I tripped over him the next morning. Fortunately, as a teenager he has outgrown that, and his sleeping routine is his own.

I can justify Corey and Jessica having difficulties sleeping based on the trauma of their pasts. Jessica was 9 years old when she joined my family. Perhaps the abuse of her first 9 years has had a profound effect on her ability to feel safe during the night. The same goes for Corey. He spent many years living on the streets, and didn’t join my family until he was 12 years old. More than likely the horrors of his past keep him awake at night. But after many years in my family, shouldn’t sleep come a little more easily for both of them?

Ashley’s wakefulness could indeed be due to her deafblindness – or maybe she is having seizures during the night – or maybe it is just some other quirk of her interesting medical profile. Even with her, though, I would have thought all my attempts to improve her sleeping habits might have had at least some sort of positive effect.

Worse than the sleeping habits of my children are my own. I am exhausted almost all the time. So why then when I do get a few hours when all my children are asleep I still sometimes stay awake? I know what I am doing wrong – I lie in bed and worry – worry about the upcoming IEP meeting – worry about everyone’s health – worry about yet another insurance fight – worry about money – etc. etc. etc. It seems the worry is bigger than the exhaustion, and the sheep jumping over the fence in my brain are getting tired of being counted.

What can I do? I need strategies for setting aside all those thoughts that take over my mind in the middle of the night. I need techniques for getting myself to sleep even if I am awakened by one of my children. They go back to sleep – why can’t I?


Esbee said...

I read myself to sleep. I get lost in a book and then I don't get lost in thoughts. That said, I have a devil of a time going back to sleep if I'm awakened. I'm good at falling asleep and staying asleep but not at refalling asleep.

Ashley's Mom said...

That's my exact problem also, esbee. I can easily fall asleep - that's the exhaustion setting in. But if I am awakened, as I am several times a night by Ash, getting back to sleep is my downfall.

Marla said...

We have similar problems here. Maizie never slept through the night until she was about eight years old. It was nothing short of hell when it came to lack of sleep. And when I say she never slept through the night I don't mean she just got up for a few minutes. She would wake up at one and be up till four and then wake up at six. I had to always be watching her. It was terrible. I guess we finally found a medication combo to help her sleep. Melatonin has helped her and me! I take two caps at bedtime and it makes falling asleep way easier. It seems to help me fall asleep without the obsessing and worrying you are mentioning. Maybe you could give that a try? You can get the sustained released kind which might help in your situation. It also does not make it hard to get up and help your child and then go back to sleep.


MMC said...

I developed the idea of using a mantra to help me sleep when my head just refused to shut off. The words would vary by the night (it had to have the right 'feel right' rhythm to it) but whatever phrase I came up ("Put it in the box and shut the lid" was one of my favourites) I would just repeat it non-stop. Until I slept.

And then when my mind would 'split" as if often would, so that I would be repeating my mantra while thinking other thoughts at the same time, I would just bring myself back to my mantra. As many times as it took. And it took a lot at first but over time, I got better at it. And it worked. Still does, when I need to do it which is nowhere near as often as before.