Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tried And True Part 3: Sleep

This post has taken me so much longer to write than the others in the series. Mostly because as many of us know, sleep changes often with our kids. We think we have it all figured out, and then it all changes in a moment. Because Andrew is 9 years old, we have been through it all with the sleep issues. From the beginning of his little life, his sleep has been disrupted. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. Or sometimes they work for a blissful time and then stop with no warning or cause. It is enough to drive even the strongest person batty. There are some things that have worked more often than not and therefore have made the list of Tried and True. 

The first thing that has been imperative in getting Andrew to not only go to sleep, but stay in his bed when he is awake, is his crib soother. Yes, he is 9 years old now. But he has always had a Fisher Price crib soother. You know those things that attach to the crib and light up and play music to sooth babies to sleep? Well, Andrew has always had one for comfort and I am not sure that will ever change. But hey, if it works, why mess with it?

The second thing that has been a golden standard to help him feel comfortable enough to go to sleep since he was 3 years old is his bed tent. Many kids love that enclosed feeling and Andrew is no exception. Ever since he was a baby, he liked to be confined to a small space. It made him feel safe, and less overwhelmed with the world around him. We have a bed from IKEA that has a tent that attaches to it. We go nowhere without it. Seriously. Camping, hotels, grandparents...etc. Any overnight stay requires the bed tent and whatever contraption we need to assemble it to any bed he will be sleeping in. It also helps on trips because he wakes up and what he sees around him is so familiar, that he goes back to sleep easier since he can't really see outside the tent arch.

The third thing and perhaps the most important is his weighted blanket.  Andrew has had weighted blankets since age 3. He started with a 6 lb one, then a 10 lb, and now he uses a 15 lb one. He has always been a big kid and loves deep pressure. When he is super dis-regulated, the weighted blanket really calms his body for sleep. It helps him feel where he is in regard to his environment. We did a ton of research on weighted blankets and the fillers and have always ordered ours from Salt of the Earth Weighted Gear. You can customize the fabric so that you can choose a pattern your child prefers. Andrew loves the ocean so we have always done an ocean themed one. There are different fillers to chose from as well. We have always gone with the fine grade river stone instead of the poly beads. It allows for less bulk as the weight goes up, and I have never had a problem with tearing or drying issues. They have held together wonderfully even with a lot of washes. The owner of the company is wonderful and they are great at answering any questions and helping you choose the exact weighted blanket for your needs. I highly recommend them.

Now lets talk about sleep supplements. We didn't try anything at all to help promote sleep until Andrew was 7 years old. He did not sleep more than 30 minutes at at time for years. As he has grown and is now 9...he has improved. But he still is up 3 to 4 hours a night often. We finally decided to try some natural supplements to see if they would help him fall asleep and sleep through the night more often. They don't work all the time and must be cycled as they lose effectiveness, but they do give some relief and help him sleep through a least part of the time. We cycle using Melatonin, 5HTP, Magnesium, GABA, and other natural herbs like Skullcap, lemon balm, and passionflower. Sometimes we only use one thing, sometimes a combo. His neurologist and pediatrician are aware of all of them and have signed off on their use as needed. We have seen no side effects yet and all have helped him for at least a short time.

Other supplements we use are probiotics, Magnesium, fish oil, and a good multivitamin. The Magnesium really seemed to help with sleep and that is the most recent thing we have tried. We currently have him off of all other sleep supplements. We also noticed that Andrew's meltdowns and behaviors decreased significantly when we cut out food dyes, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and chemical preservatives. He seemed more able to control his outbursts and was more regulated than he was when his diet included these things. Trader Joe's, Sprouts, and Fresh and Easy, and Whole Foods are definitely our go to stores to find foods without these ingredients.

Finally, Andrew has a lot of anxiety. As he is getting older (pre-puberty), it seems to be getting worse with bedtime. Since last November, he would not let me leave him alone to fall asleep. If I did, he would urinate in his bed. I was changing his bed up to 3 times a night. He knew if he peed, I would come in and change him and give him that attention he was seeking. But month after month, we couldn't get him to stop. Social stories didn't help. Waking him up to take him to the bathroom before he would normally wake and pee his bed didn't work. I was stuck in his room for an hour plus at the beginning of the night until he went to sleep, and then when he was up in the night for hours on end I was stuck either on his floor, or the family room, or getting up every hour to change him when he peed again. He refused to get out of bed to pee. He had grown out of all pull ups and I refused to put him in adult diapers, so he would be awake much longer than he would have if he wasn't wet and uncomfortable.

A week ago I had the idea of giving him a special nite nite iPod nano with music and very relaxing baby videos that he still enjoys today. iPods and music are very relaxing and highly preferred for him. The Nano has none of his pictures he takes and likes to edit or apps to play, so it is much less interesting then the iPod touch he used to have in the middle of the night when he was awake for hours and I wanted to catch a few winks. Immediately his anxiety drastically reduced as he was able to lay in bed with his iPod until he fell asleep. We remove the headphones and iPod from his bed after he is asleep and put them in the hallway outside of the bathroom. We kept telling him over and over again "pee pee toilet and then nite nite iPod" and he got it! When he wakes in the middle of the night, he gets up right away to find his iPod and he goes to the bathroom in the toilet. Then he goes back to bed and falls back asleep with his iPod and headphones much much quicker than he did when he was up hours on end laying in bed without the nite nite iPod. He is getting more sleep. I am getting more sleep. And most importantly, he is becoming more independent! Not to mention I have so much less laundry to do.

What I want you all to take from this post, especially the last paragraph, is that our kids are different. The typical rules of bedtime routine and sleep do not apply to them. We have got to think outside the box to try to find ways to help our kids that doctors, friends, and our parents never tried before. And sometimes they work! This last week has been the best week I have had in a very long time. I hope that our unconventional way of dealing with Andrew's sleep problems last for a long time to come. I love that he is not on any sleep supplements and he is doing better than he was when he was on them. Anxiety breaks through those things and dealing with the anxiety problem and giving him some control has helped solve some of his sleep problems. At least temporarily.


  1. this is good food for thought. especially on how cycling through the supplements may help. i am sitting here at 10pm for the second night in a row as my daughter plays next to me because she refuses to go to bed. the cycle begins. :/
    have you tried an anti-anxiety med? we have and found it helped tremendously with sleeping through the night.... i'm not saying you should or shouldn't - just giving info. :)

    1. Actually, I was thinking about an updated blog post I need to do now that things have changed with Drew. He is on an anti-anxiety med and also prescribed meds that aren't for sleep specifically, but help with sleep issues. So things have really changed for us since this post. I will definitely work on that. Because when puberty started, everything changed for him. Glad you mentioned this to remind me!

    2. Actually, I was thinking about an updated blog post I need to do now that things have changed with Drew. He is on an anti-anxiety med and also prescribed meds that aren't for sleep specifically, but help with sleep issues. So things have really changed for us since this post. I will definitely work on that. Because when puberty started, everything changed for him. Glad you mentioned this to remind me!