Insomnia Is Tough To Beat…When It’s Your Child by Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston
My experiences with insomnia have been many. When my husband and I were first married, he went through a severe enough problem with insomnia, that one day we just realized he had been on prescription sleep aids for well over a year. That was a scary thought because they’re not intended to be used in such a manner, yet nobody he treated with for any of his other health concerns ever mentioned anything. We ended up seeing a sleep specialist together where we learned the difference between insomnia related to pain or anxiety and learned insomnia. And we also learned he had both…and so did I. By this time, my insomnia was kicking in thanks to the symptoms I dealt with every day from fibromyalgia. Pain is an awful thing to deal with when you’re trying to get comfortable in bed so you can fall asleep quickly. When you lay down and feel like you’re laying on a bunch of bruises, you really can’t find a comfy spot. Our new mattress was starting to feel like the one we just got rid of, and that one was about fifteen years old! And I’ll be honest, dealing with severe chronic pain when you visit doctor after doctor and nobody can tell you what’s going on with you – as well as finding out what’s wrong but having nobody know how to help you with it- can cause a good amount of depression and anxiety for anybody. Pain + depression + anxiety does NOT equal good sleep success. And when sleep starts to suffer, you start to find yourself slacking off on your sleep hygiene habits in an effort to find something, ANYTHING, that will either break the cycle and finally bring on a string of nights of wonderfully restful sleep OR give you some relief from the anxiety that comes with the peaking at the alarm clock hour after hour and knowing the amount of sleep possible is quickly dwindling. So when we found ourselves in this sleep specialist’s office, we were both rather desperate for answers. My husband was able to stop taking his sleeping pills for a time, and then his disc issues stepped in and started the sleeping problems all over again. My own sleep issues have never really improved. It’s been about six years or so since my journey with fibromyalgia started, and I really feel during that time I’ve spent more time trying to survive with raising children on little sleep while trying to figure out ways to parent around the obstacles fibromyalgia creates.
So you’d think I would have a ton of tricks for dealing with insomnia and other problems I encounter every day thanks to my health issues. And for me, maybe I have in some ways found a few answers. I can even offer ideas to my husband when he’s hit a wall and can’t figure out why he’s not sleeping well. But none of my experiences with sleeping problems prepared me for this surprise I’ve recently encountered – my five-year-old has turned into as severe an insomniac as her mother and father are. And I’m at a loss as to how to properly deal with it.
It’s now 11:33 and she’s in her room reading with a flashlight. It’s maybe the fourth or fifth night in a row this week that her little sister has fallen asleep first and she’s found herself just laying there waiting for me to check on her and save her from the monotonous boredom that comes with being unable to go to sleep. Other nights she comes out every ten or fifteen minutes telling me over and over she can’t sleep. But tonight she actually did as I asked and stayed in her room.
We follow the basic rules all parents are told should work…have a consistent sleep routine. And so we use the bathroom, brush teeth, read a story, say certain good night words while covering little bodies and then turning off the light. I’m all about staying calm and quiet, making the time together one of love so the last moments of thought are positive and comforting, something I really feel would help with falling asleep. But when she gets like this and insists she can’t sleep, I’m at a total loss for ideas. We’ve tried just about everything. I’ve warm milk, making her lay in her bed for a specified amount of time before we’ll consider anything else, reading books by flashlight, getting out of bed and hanging out with me in the living room just to get a break from her bed. She’s asked for snacks if it gets late enough, so I try to think of what would be the least likely to keep her awake longer even though I do try to steer her away from eating. When it first started happening, it was really hard to keep her in her bed. Now I think she’s so accustomed to it that as long as she’s not laying there staring at the walls, she’ll stay in there without giving me much of a hard time. So we’ve had books, coloring, sticker books, maze puzzle books, anything that’s not loud, messy or needing a large amount of light in that bed with her. We have Celtic meditation music playing on a cd player. We have the fan running to provide white noise.
And she’s still now standing here next to me asking what she can do now because reading didn’t work. I’m at a total loss.
I remember what the nights were like when I couldn’t sleep and I knew I had only so many hours before I had to get up for work. I remember the extreme anxiety involved with trying to convince myself I could get through the day with my students without a whole lot of sleep. I reminded myself there were days I succeeded at getting through a work day without any sleep at all. But the toughest thing I had to deal with was the anxiety that came with just laying there with NOTHING to do! The boredom can be AWFUL, and I know she’s going through that very same thing. The only difference is as an adult, I can start to do something that would make the quiet of the night seem beneficial. I could lay there and meditate or pray…anything that would make it feel less threatening to be just laying there…waiting. But she’s five. She’s not going to just lay there for more than a half hour or so with nothing to do when she can’t sleep. And I feel terribly evil if I expect her to.
So now I’m going to go to her and try to find something else that’s quiet that may help her stay quiet enough to drift off to sleep. I’ve already warned her tomorrow she won’t be allowed to sleep in because it keeps messing with her sleep schedule and causing problems at night. But the mother in me has a hard time limiting her sleep like that when it’s not really her fault she’s up the night before. So this is how I end my day – struggling with what to do with her when she’s awake – and how I start my day, struggling with just how long to let her sleep so she has enough rest to get through her day without being tired or grumpy. I know if I wait long enough, it will work itself out. I just hope she continues to be as easy-going with the problem as she’s been these past months. It’s tough enough as it is…I don’t know what I’d do if I had a terribly miserable girl on my hands too!
(By the way, if anyone has any sleep tips for school-aged children they’d like to share, I’m all ears! Or I guess since I’m reading this, I should say “all eyes.” Thank you everyone!!!)