One of my four children was an awesome, quiet and compliant sleeper. The other three were nocturnal creatures who used any and all methods to delay going to sleep. They would wake up and roam. They would wake me up and want to play.
Mommy doesn't play well at 2:30 a.m.
By trial and error, I finally figured out what worked for each child, as each and every child, despite the same genetic make-up or the same set of parents, was frustratingly, maddening different. When Sam was an infant until three years old, he would go to sleep easily but he would awaken every two hours, scream for an hour, then fall back asleep, only to awaken two hours later for a one-hour blood-chilling, white-knuckled, red-faced crying and screaming fit. For three years the child did this....then his brother Jacob was born.
Jacob was perfect. He would coo and smile and I'd put him in his crib wide-awake after his warm bath; this out of necessity because I was dealing with his older, autistic brother. I'd go back in his nursery and look at him in the crib, and he would be sound asleep, his little hands curled in wee little fists. I would stand there and look at him (and check for breathing, who am I kidding?) while Sam would have an autistic meltdown.
Then, Jacob became a toddler, and graduated to a twin bed. I did not go the toddler bed route with him because someone gave me a twin bed, and so it was his. But here's the thing: he would roll right out of that bed, plop on the floor, and cry out. Or, he'd roll out of bed, sit up, and wake me up to play, or, worse -- wake up his brother to play. The thing about Jacob was, he was so darn cute! "Why yes Jacob baby boy, let's play dinosaurs at two in the morning!"
Then, years later, Laura was born. Laura was much like Jacob in that, as an infant, she too would go to sleep easily. Then, we made her convertible crib into a toddler bed...and naptimes stopped altogether. Bedtimes were hard. She did not want to stop having fun to sleep at night, plus she had so much fun during the day she wanted to party every night. With her parents.
Out of necessity, I have developed some strategies that have helped stop nocturnal visitors. Laura now sleeps through the night in her twin bed; Sam has moved out (he's 21) and Jacob is at college. So, there is hope yet!
1. Make a consistent bedtime routine. About an hour before, start the bedtime routine. Regardless of the age of the child, draw a nice, warm bath using safety precautions, and always, always stay with your child. One thing that I found helped all my kids was utilizing bedtime bath that had sleep-inducing, calming lavender in it, such as Johnson's Baby Bedtime Bubble Bath. This would calm them and help them prepare to sleep. In fact, I use this too for my bath. An essential oil that is a favorite of mine too is California Baby Essential Oil Bath Drop - Calming Bedtime (which I also use in my bath).
Within the bedtime routine, read non-stimulating books. Have soft lighting (no glaring and bright lights in the house at night) that will encourage the brain to think it's time to go to lullabye land. If the child uses a nightlight, turn it on and cuddle with the child, all warm and cozy, in his room, either in a chair if the child is really young or in his own bed. Non-stimulating books are important as you want to encourage reading, yes, but you want soft, sweet books that also encourage sleepiness. A great, soothing read that's good for toddler and preschool children alike is Bedtime by Elizabeth Verdick (see below). Bedtime helps engage children in a delightful story in which they can see that going to bed is an enjoyable experience.
2. Prevent roll-outs to keep a child in bed during sleep. When Jacob would roll out of bed, he would fall on the floor and wake up. His cries would either wake me up or he'd pitter-pat in my bedroom to ask for a dinosaur playmate.
Sidebar: One night when I heard him scream, I ran in his room without wearing my glasses, and it was dark...I stepped right on a plastic dinosaur. Stegosaurus to be exact. Heaven help me, there's isn't much more in the world that is more painful than stepping on a stegosaurus with your bare feet. One bedtime routine I immediately put in place that night was a 15-minute floor cleanup after bath and before reading time.
Finally, after many nights of rolling out of bed, I bought Jacob a side rail. This handy device would lock in place to prevent him from rolling out, but then I could unlock it in the morning, and it would just fold down and hang by the side of his bed. It helped a great deal to prevent roll-outs and some midnight wanderings.
3. Prevent midnight wanderings.... oh, the bane of my existence! You're asleep, then you wake up suddenly, your heart racing: what was that?! You hear it again... someone's in the kitchen. You don't expect your precious little boys to be up, noooo.... because, you know, you used lavender in their tub and read a book to them that wasn't stimulating.... but.... there it is again! So you get up quietly, you reach for the softball bat that's in the corner but it's not there, so, you grab a ... shoe! Yes! A high heel!
You swing open the door and jump out into the hall and systematically turn the hall light on....you run into the dining room/kitchen combo (blast this open floor plan, no good hiding spots!) and turn on that light.... suddenly, you see it:
Your youngest son is standing solidly naked on top of the kitchen counter while wearing a cape made out of a Buzz Lightyear pillowcase while your oldest son is below him, also naked yet wearing his underwear on his head like a helmet and just as you were about to attack a would-be robber with a kid's Mickey Mouse Croc that you thought was a more dangerous pump, your youngest boy shouts the phrase that chills.your.blood: "To infinity....and beyond!" and jumps! Jumps off the kitchen counter, way up high, with thrust so he's not just high but out....You drop the Croc and lunge forward, only to step on a dadgum Tyrannosaurus Rex which gets lodged in your foot....Meanwhile, Buzz lands very neatly on a giant pile of couch cushions that have been stacked up for the occasion. His landing prompts his brother to "yay!" loudly and hold up the roughly-written number 10 on a piece of construction paper.
Let's prevent nighttime wanderings, shall we? The last thing you want to do is make waking up at night fun. If you do have to get up at night with a child (unless it's for sickness; this doesn't apply to getting sick at night), don't make it fun....if getting up is fun for the kid, he will continue to get up at night because it is fun and Mommy will get up with him and play. Put in place a new set of rules:
4. Look into other avenues. With Laura, she would relish the warm lavender bath. She loved the books. Loved cuddles. She loved them so much she didn't want them to end. She would not, could not, did not go to sleep. When she did finally pass out (or was that me?), she would get up and want to play, despite making that an unpleasant option for her.
As Laura has chronic migraines, and is on a medicine to prevent them we found that sleep at night does wonders to prevent her terrible headaches. So, with much prayer and a doctor's consultation, we gave her a 3 mg tablet of natural Melatonin before her bath as part of her bedtime routine (it also comes in liquid). This has been a game-changer. Just one tablet, which she takes with water like a big girl, has revolutionized bedtime. She falls asleep easily without fuss after bath and book, and will stay asleep until around 8 o'clock. Kids need sleep. Melatonin has been a huge blessing because we know it's not addictive yet has huge benefits in that she sleeps (which helps prevent her migraines) and she's much more of a happier person (to be and be around) when she has sleep. But, please, before trying Melatonin, ask your pediatrician about this first.
If your child wants to get up at night to play with you, take heart -- you're doing a good job, if your kid searches you out for that nocturnal playtime. But, just like a flight attendant on an airplane who instructs us to put our oxygen mask on first then help someone, if we don't rest, than we're no good to anyone. So go ahead....take that lavender bath yourself, mama! And help your child help you to have a good night's sleep.
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(C) Terrie McKee
Bedtime - $7.99
from: National Autism Resources Corp
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