My son Emmett has always had a rough time sleeping. I am talking since Day One. As a baby, the tiny creak of a floorboard as we walked out of his room would jolt him out of the sleep that we had just spent an hour rocking him toward. Nap times were a constant source of frustration for me. He hated them and I was always stressed about what I was doing wrong and why it seemed to be so easy for other babies and the moms attached to them.
When he was a toddler, we knew that it was actually a good sign when he completely lost it and started screaming. This meant that he was actually close to sleep even though he might have been in his crib or bed for an hour already. Aaron and I were both pretty numb to it and used to the routine, but a friend who stayed in a hotel with us was horrified and asked if maybe our son needed counseling. That’s how bad it was.
As he got older, the time it took to fall asleep got longer. By the time he was in kindergarten, it was not uncommon for him to be awake in bed for two hours before he was sleeping. Learning to read was a helpful thing because he finally had something to do with his mind during that time.
One more thing … we could NOT tire this kid out. There was no such thing. He could run and play and be active with 50 activities all day long and he would still struggle to find sleep that night.
It also didn’t matter what time we put him to bed. I never pushed it too far back because most research suggests that sleep begets sleep and, ironically, pushing it a little earlier helps them most. I never put him to bed before 8 p.m., but we did try it later and he was still up for one or two hours.
So, we tried all of the things we could think of. We had a bedtime routine since the day he was born. We read to him every night. We tried baths before bed. We tried warm milk. We tried classical music. We tried white noise. I tried massaging him before bed. We even put him in yoga for a while because I had hoped that the deep breathing and relaxation strategies might help him calm his body better.
None of these things made a difference.
Meanwhile, Emmett was getting more and more anxious about bedtime. I felt so bad for him but, as I explained to him many times, I could not solve this for him. I worried more and more as his anxiety increased. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from watching too many episodes of Intervention, sometimes drug addicts were kids who had a hard time sleeping. In my head, I could already see him strung out and blaming the start of his problems on the years of anxiety over bedtime. Rational? No. But I was tired of freaking out.
To be honest, our pediatrician had been pushing me for years to give him either a pill like Benadryl or melatonin before bed. If I had tried everything else (and I had) then he said it was time to look to other options. I resisted for a long time. I didn’t want Emmett to have the idea that he needed a pill every night to fall asleep.
Finally, however, I relented because it felt to me that the anxiety of not sleeping was worse than the idea that he would take a pill at night.
So, I went and bought melatonin. He takes a quarter of a pill and dissolves it under his tongue about a half an hour before bed.
The difference has been astounding! I had no idea it would be this profound. The kid actually asks to go to sleep. He doesn’t read in bed because he’s too tired, and he is falling asleep within 15 minutes of putting him down. There is no more walking into his room at 10:15 to tell him that I am going to sleep, and I hope he can do the same soon. I am amazed.
I also find it a bit scary. This tiny quarter of a pill that I buy in the natural foods section of our grocery store has changed our son’s life. His anxiety about falling asleep is gone but what is it doing to his brain that the difference is so dramatic? Was his body just not making enough melatonin before?
Am I teaching him that the answer to his problems is going to be found in a bottle?
I am honestly not sure. I don’t know the right answer. I wonder if any of you have gone through similar experiences? Have you found answers?
I know that parenting often makes you fly blind and trust your gut. I am not sure yet what my gut is telling me. I would love any stories that might help.