Most of us parents have had a baby that didn't sleep well or went through a phase of struggling to sleep, but what if that phase lasts years or even decades. Many kids with a mental health diagnosis also really struggle to sleep. They may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep or both. They are chronically sleep deprived which often exacerbates their mental health issues. The parents of these kids, therefore, are also sleep deprived. These are probably the parents and kids that can least afford to be sleep deprived. The kids need more sleep to have the energy to cope with their issues and the parents need the patience of a saint to help their children cope. This is not laughing matter. This can add so much stress to family life that some families cannot stay together. Lack of sleep can also cause chronic health issues, (read more here). Sleep is so important and can be so elusive for some people.
My oldest son started out a great sleeper. He slept through the night at 6weeks of age! Naps were not easy, but I did everything I could to be sure that he got his naps. The best thing I ever did was to get blackout curtains in his room, like these. Having it dark in his room really helped him take naps. Once my son hit 19m old, the night waking began. He woke up several times a night. He didn't stay away long, but he would come to my room, and I'd walk him back to his. This disruption in sleep was very hard to deal with, but he went back to his bed so I didn't complain too much. I knew it could be worse, he could have tried to stay up. This went on for a very long time. We always had a bedtime routine. We made his room as welcoming to sleep as we could. We made sure he had plenty of opportunities to be active so that he would be tired, but it didn't help. The waking continued.
This went on for a few years. I finally started keeping a journal of times that he woke up so that I had a written account for our doctor. He averaged waking 5times a night and it was not uncommon for him to wake up 9 times in a night. We tried melatonin and finally got some help. I had mixed feelings about using it, but we all needed to get some sleep. This helped my son get about 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, then it wore off and the waking commenced.
I could not understand why he couldn't sleep. He didn't snore, (which is an indication of sleep apnea, if your child snores, please see an ENT to check airways for enlarged tonsils or adenoids and to do a sleep study). We couldn't figure out a cause. Because my son had some sensory issues I researched sensory and sleep. I read that some people really struggle to get to and maintain a regulated state to allow them to sleep. I read about therapeutic listening and wanted to try it. I had a friend that was trained in therapeutic listening and had the equipment for us to borrow. (You can now use a similar program without expensive equipment, check out this CD or this one. ) We did the program for 9 weeks. It was challenging, but it changed everything! My son stopped waking up at night! I was so excited! We all got to sleep through the night! Repeatedly!! It was miraculous! Now that he is older he still sleeps well most nights. There are times that he struggles to fall asleep, usually when he has been on electronic devices too close to bedtime. (We aim to have them off at least an hour before bedtime.) He is able to tell us what he might need to help him sleep. We still use blackout curtains, white noise machine, lavender essential oil, and a himalayan salt nightlight . These all help him get to and maintian a regulated state.
Families that deal with mental health issues deal with so much. Much more than you can imagine and each families story is unique. Sleep deprivation is just one issue. I hope that someone else can use this information and get more sleep.