Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sleep . . .

Sleep is an issue for lots of parents.  I had hoped that now our youngest is almost 7 it wouldn't be a problem for us.  I was wrong.

Right from the beginning L had no real issues with sleep - as a baby he liked nursing to sleep, later he liked to be cuddled, but beyond that he developed good sleeping habits pretty easily.  Now, at 14 1/2, his sleep patterns are changing, but he is responsible enough to be handling that pretty well.

He stays up once the younger three have gone to bed, and the three of us (His father, L and I) watch a couple of TV programs, often including the news, then he goes to his room.  Watching the news with L is great - I can almost see his world view expanding before me, and we have some very interesting conversations.  I love that our relationship is a happy one and we can talk through the controversial stuff.  I love seeing him form his own views and work out how to put them across.  Sometimes we disagree and I love that too - he is very much his own man, I could no more make him think as I do than I could make him shrink to shorter than me.  Once he has gone up to his room he plays on his PC for a bit then goes to sleep.  I trust him to do that in a sensible way.  I'm not actually worried about what he accesses online - I don't think he'd go looking for anything dodgy, and he relishes the freedom to learn about things on his own terms.  There have been a few mornings when he has found it hard to get up, but generally our lives can accommodate that.  He is now moderating himself, because he hates "loosing the morning".  If we have an early start I tend to remind him of that before I go to bed, but I don't police his bedtimes.  So far it's all working well :)

M has always been a different kettle of fish.  He would sleep anywhere if he was tired.  And he had a pre-programmed bedtime - 8 pm.  Until he was about 3 1/2 he would fall asleep wherever he was, whatever he was doing, at about 8.  Often on the floor playing, or on the sofa watching TV.  That faded, but he has always been easy to get to bed.  A story, drink, kiss and tuck in.  The trouble starts after this.

M has night terrors - they have always been there, to one degree or another, and I suspect they always will be.  A night-terror differs from a nightmare in several ways - with a nightmare once the person is awake they might be scared, but they are pretty easy to soothe, and mostly lucid.  A couple of words and a hug and the person is back to sleep.  With M's night terrors it is never that simple.  When he wakes he is not really awake.  He is usually shouting, distressed, and still trapped in whatever is going on inside his head.  There is no reasoning with him, we can't touch him because that often upsets him more, we can't play along, all we can do is watch and try to keep him safe. 

For about three months earlier this year  we had a night terror every night - most nights we had two.  He'd be screaming, pacing around the dinner table for about 30 - 45 minutes.  We tried a whole host of suggestions - waking him just before the night terror usually happened, talking it through in the day time, providing funny endings to typical dreams, more physical activity, less activity, no TV, no computer, general "are you happy" conversations - nothing had any effect.  Eventually I read about "deep pressure therapy" and that struck a chord - M likes to be well wrapped, likes shoes done up too tight, likes to be under pillows - so I looked into buying a weighted blanket.

 Unfortunately at £100+ it wasn't an option.  So I made one :)  It worked - from the first night we had a dramatic improvement. Now, don't get me wrong, M still has night terrors, but it is once a week, or one every two weeks, not two a night.

J has issues too.  He always found it harder to fall asleep, and for a long time he would "yo-yo" - I'd get him to bed, and within minutes he'd be up for one reason or another.  In the last year that has (finally) disappeared :)  But he has issues with "little accidents" at night.  I have no idea how to counter that one - he doesn't drink much, doesn't have a night time drink, goes to the loo last thing before bed . . .

Lastly is little A.  Where we used to live we only had two bedrooms, so until she was 3 there was no choice but for her to share our room.  When we moved it took us a while to get things sorted, and she didn't go to her own room until she was four.  For the next year she was on the middle floor of the house with us - and the living room.  She loved to stay up and watch TV, and if we put her to bed she would also yo-yo, so we'd let her stay up for a bit then get her back to bed. 

The trouble was she didn't want to go to bed . . . for a long time she would stay up, happily singing, playing, chatting until midnight.  I have a video of her making up dance routines at 00:15 one night.  It took some getting organised, but by moving her bedroom to the top floor and by repeatedly shooing her back to bed we've managed what seemed impossible :)

Bedtime for A, J and M is now a couple of chapters of a book - currently Redwall - then discussion about what we are doing the next day, then toilet for M and J, then tuck in and lights out.  Most nights they go straight to sleep :)

Then we wait.  If M is going to have a night terror it is almost always before midnight.  If we get to that point it is "safe" to go to bed :)

Why is all this on my mind?  Well, to start with M had a bad night last night, but to follow up I saw this on Facebook : Go to Bed- it's an article discussing research linking irregular bedtimes and behaviour issues.

I know that when I am very tired I find it harder to cope with life's craziness.  I see no reason to think that my children are any different.  But I feel there are problems with the article - there are lots of confounding factors that haven't been taken into account.  The first, biggest, question is WHY.  Why the irregular bedtimes - does the child resist sleep (lots of SEN children do), is the home a chaotic environment (already known to affect behaviour), do the parents have difficulties that are preventing more organisation (parental difficulties are known to affect behaviour), is the family over programed (ie doing too many evening activities.)

The article states that regularising bedtimes improved behaviour - but what else has changed as well as bedtime? If the family time more organised, less activities, are the parents being supported and helped?

Looking at my own children I can see a couple of things -

reducing M's night terrors hasn't improved daytime behaviour.

J is no calmer when he has a full nights sleep.

A is happier now she gets a good nights sleep.

L is a grumpy teen ;) regardless of amounts of sleep.

I think, therefore, that for an NT child, getting enough sleep matters.  For a child with additional needs getting more sleep won't "fix them." 

That's all fine and dandy, but so far three people have pointed this article out to me as a way to help my kids.  Because that is what they have read into it - get your children in bed at a sensible time and all their issues will melt away.

That just leaves me feeling a bit like shouting "if it was as simple as putting them to bed on time I'd have done that years ago!"


  1. That article ought to have said "[try and] get your children to have the correct amount of sleep that they need", which is not the same as the time they go to bed. And, no, I don't think sleep can make SEN disappear! x

  2. I agree - I'd love a magic wand, but I think their issues are here to stay :)