By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
People assume parents of a newborn baby have sleeping problems. Then babies get older and everybody starts sleeping again – in theory. But sleeping issues don’t always disappear when the diapers do. Sometimes they grow right along with the kid. And that’s what happened at our house.
Eight-year-old Adam can’t fall asleep, at least not within the usual amount of time. Even though he‘s physically active and has a busy day of school, play, sports and homework, he still sometimes lies in bed for two hours waiting for sleep to come. We’ve tried all the usual remedies – warm milk, hot bath, reading, counting sheep (or NBA players, in his case). We’ve tried teaching him to clear his mind and relax his muscles. But nothing seems to work. He lies there miserable, kept awake by a mind that’s too busy to turn off.
I tried giving him a relaxing foot massage, which made him laugh like a ticklish hyena. I tried over-the-counter melatonin and sometimes I even give him Benadryl, which does seem to help a little. But I don’t like the daily doping of antihistamine at bedtime, so I’m still looking for solutions.
There is one thing that seems to help but it, too, has drawbacks. A snuggler since birth, Adam falls asleep more easily if he’s next to a warm body. We tried putting him in the same bed with his little brother, but the two of them stayed up whispering and giggling to one another. I tried lying down with him, too. But my attempts to encourage sleep worked better on me than they did on him. I slipped into a sleepy coma within five minutes of getting horizontal in a dark room.
I googled our problem and read notes from other parents whose kids also wrestle with falling asleep. One of them suggested listening to stories with headphones while lying in bed. It seemed like a good way to help Adam get “out of his own head”, so we tried it that night. I downloaded some free children’s bedtime stories and hooked Adam up to headphones. He listened to a couple of 20-minute stories and was asleep shortly after. It was working!
The next night I searched for more audio books or podcasts. I found a series entitled “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and it seemed like great sleep-inducing content that might have some educational value as well. I downloaded a podcast titled “The Real Life Moby Dick” because the description said it was about whales. Harmless, right? About a half-hour after going to bed with his headphones, Adam came down the stairs and into the living room to say he was too scared to go to sleep.
“What’s scaring you?” I asked. “Didn’t you listen to that story about whales?”
“Yes, but now I keep thinking about that whale that crashed into the ship. The survivors of the shipwreck had to eat the people who didn’t make it,” he said.
“What?!” I said. “You mean that story was about people eating dead people?”
“Well, they weren’t trying to be mean but they didn’t have any food, Mom,” he explained, clearly conflicted.
“I’m sorry that story scared you. I didn’t know it was going to talk about things like that. In real life, people don’t usually eat other people, okay?” I explained.
“Okay… But would you come lay down with me?” he asked.
Seeing as how I’d accidentally filled his head with images of cannibalism, how could I say no? I walked him back to bed and lay next to him while he tried to shake off the scary story. Finally, he settled into a not quite peaceful sleep. (Note to self: Always listen to the audio podcast before your kid does. History can be gruesome.)
A couple hours later, Tom and I went to bed, only to wake up shortly after by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. “He’s up again,” Tom mumbled half-asleep. “Your turn.” We trade off on who’s going to herd our little insomniac sleepwalker back into bed. A couple of years ago, Adam’s sleepwalking started as a simple midnight stroll from his own room to ours. But lately it has become more of a nightly voyage all over the house. Though he seems to be awake, he has no memory of his nocturnal travels or conversations with us, and he usually ends up back in bed where he started.
But having a sleepwalker in the house can be unnerving. We put an alarm on all the exterior doors, just in case he dreams of riding his bicycle and tries to get outside to actually do it. And I’m beginning to wish we hadn’t sold those baby gates for the stairs in the last yard sale. We may be past the baby phase, but we’re still dreaming of a good night’s sleep. You can e-mail your drowsy suggestions to gwen@nwaMotherlode.com. Sweet dreams.