Sleeping Beauty

Many parents look forward to that point in the evening when they can tuck their kids into bed and have an hour or two of uninterrupted time.  Time when they can watch adult themed shows, eat the forbidden snacks in privacy and not have to speak to anyone.

But not all parents feel the same.  Some like me dread that approaching bedtime because it is SO MUCH WORK!!

I don’t even know when it started?  I know as a baby/toddler Sara slept great (at bedtime) but napping was always an issue.  And then one day I realized that she had chronic insomnia.  Definitely by grade 2-3 she was no longer just falling asleep.  Instead she was wide awake for HOURS past bedtime and waking her was becoming more and more difficult.

As she aged the problem worsened.

Eventually she was no longer able to just lay there and entertain herself until she got tired enough. She became frustrated and would ask multiple times if she could read, watch TV, draw or get out of bed.  That tranquil quiet few hours before bed became a daunting, dreaded part of the day and each night I went to bed much later than I wanted because I was up troubleshooting her issues.

And we tried all the common solutions, a strict bedtime routine, a bath, a massage, essential oils, mood lights etc. etc.  Nothing worked, and we were not inclined to give her prescription medications, but we did start her on a nightly dose of Melatonin.

About a year ago it got so bad that even letting her read didn’t relax her brain.   She could be awake for hours bored, and at some point she started to peel the paint off her walls while she laid there trying to pass the hours.  It started as a small patch and then spread to the entire length of her bed (and two layers of paint!).

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In order to curb the destruction (and help her sleep) we took the advice of our Occupational Therapist and created a “sleep plan”.   The plan was that Sara was to go to bed at the required time and have her 30 minutes of reading time to unwind.  Then she was required to turn off her lights and have 10 minutes of “rest”.  If she was unable to sleep she was permitted 10 more minutes of reading, followed by 10 minutes of rest with her lights out.  And so on.

This often lasted 5-6 cycles of read/rest and required both her father and I to be in charge of tracking the time and going in and turning her light off an on as required.  By now Sara’s sensory issues were so erratic that the simple act of getting out of bed to turn off her light could arouse a host of sensory “fires” that I would need to put out before we could get her to dial down – and then we would have to start the whole process all over again.

Just getting out of bed could cause her pyjamas to irritate her as she walked, creating immense agitation, and requiring an outfit change.   That simple outfit change could spiral her into being irritated by a number of issues – now she is too hot from moving around.  Or she might all of a sudden notice a bug bite that is now so itchy that she cannot get her mind off of it.

So we spent hours each night supervising this 10 minute routine.  As annoying as it was – it was a Godsend and truly was the best thing we had done in years to help her get to sleep in a timely manner.  But, we no sooner got into the groove with it when 8 months ago she started waking in the middle of the night, randomly and unpredictably, and in a state of chaos.

It would start innocuous enough.  I would be startled awake by her in my room and she would tell me she that she had woken up and was not able to fall back asleep.   I would bring her back to her room,  get her back into bed and I would notice the “wild” in her eyes.  She would become erratic and highly agitated and her body would cycle through a seemingly impossible range of sensations.  She would be both freezing cold (hands) but roasting hot feet.  I would have to get the ice pack for her feet while wrapping her in blankets.  She would be gouging at her skin – it could be anything from excessively dry eyes to a itchy “spot” on her leg that was undetectable to me.

Sara is typically an optimistic, positive, roll with it kid…but in these moments…in the dark…in the middle of the night she would sob.  The kind of sob that rips your heart out.  I knew she was mostly just OVER tired – but I also knew that it was because she was so tired that she could no longer keep up the façade – that she was also mentally broken from these issues.  That she needed a break from her self and her tortured brain.  In those moments she just wanted to be normal.

We started the Protocol over 2 months ago (how time flies!!) and it does initially cause some disrupted sleep.  But now…now…she just goes to bed!  It is remarkable!  We say “Hey kids it’s bedtime” and she goes upstairs and manages to do ALL the things required to get into bed without any micro-managing.  All the things!! When you ask her if she brushed her teeth she can recall if she did!  We used to have to check to see if her toothbrush was wet because she could never remember.

Now she gets into bed, reads for 30 minutes, turns the light out HERSELF and falls asleep easily!  There is no more night waking, no more sensory spirals, no more peeled walls, no more 10 minute timers.   And even more remarkable – sometimes she gets awoken by a dog getting into her bed or a loud sound and she just goes back to sleep easily and without effort!!  It is remarkable and I am still pinching myself.  Now I spend my evenings watching “The Real Housewives of somewhere” and eating the M&M’s that I tucked into the far back corner of the cupboard!!  Life is good!!

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