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Thursday, April 10, 2014

We're Not Sleepy!

Ella and I met with the pediatric behavioral sleep doctor this week. I was prepared to hear some things that I didn't want to. Things I'd heard before, over and over, from doctors, friends, neighbors, strangers…things we've tried and things that have failed. But I went in with an open mind, willing to hear what this new doctor had to say about how to help my daughter sleep.

What he said made a whole lot of sense, and goes against everything Alex and I, and most other parents I know, have ever done when it comes to our kids and sleep.

The doctor taught me a lot about sleep. He said everything we're doing is fine, but isn't going to work for our kids. Every person on Earth needs a different amount of sleep in order to feel rested, and you can't say that because my child is x years old, she needs x many hours of sleep. The pediatricians mean well, but haven't studied sleep the way this doctor has, and what they have told me for 11 1/2 years is not right. 

Alex needs about 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night in order to function well and feel pretty rested. I need about 8 1/2 or 9. (The last time I got that much sleep was in college, but it doesn't change the fact that that is how much sleep my body really needs to feel rested) The doctor said his theory is that our four children are "short sleepers." They don't need as much sleep as we are expecting them to get. This is why Aidan and Ella gave up naps before age 2. This is why all four kids are terrible sleepers- they have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. There is nothing wrong with them, they just don't need as much sleep as the pediatrician told us they should need.

So. The doctor has a multi-faceted plan to help Ella have better sleep at night. I'm taking his plan and applying it to the boys too, because I think we can wean them off their sleepy medicine and just change our family's schedule and have all the kids be successful sleepers. Eventually.

The first thing we needed to do was have Ella pick out a flashlight. Whenever she comes to our bedroom during the night, she needs to have this with her. If she forgets it in her room, she has to go back and get it. There are some other things we have to do too, to make coming to see us at nighttime a little more not-so-fun. But Ella is always welcome to come to us if she needs us. This alleviates her anxiety. 

The doctor also said to talk with each of our kids and see if there is anything in their rooms that freaks them out at night, and then get rid of that thing. I've already done this, so I knew there wouldn't be any big surprises in this department. But what completely cracked me up was when I asked Aidan if anything in his room freaked him out at night that we should take out, he replied "Ella." Silly boy.

The other big thing we have to do is, at least temporarily, forget about bedtime. We have to find out how much sleep each child needs. They all have to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Moving back bedtime does not mean that they will sleep later. Moving back bedtime means they will have a sort of "power sleep"- their time in bed will be shorter and their quality of sleep will be more intense and better. Their bodies will adjust and, hopefully, stop waking during the night. 

So we took away the tiny dose of Melatonin that helps Ella fall asleep by around 7:30. We just let her stay up as long as she wanted to. We wanted to see what time her body naturally wants to go to sleep. The doctor talked with Ella about the plan too, and boy did she listen. So last night when all four kids were up during the time Alex and I usually get to have grown up time and finally do what we want to do, and Mama wasn't too happy because I also had a migraine, I muttered several times "I'm not so sure about this 'fantastic' new plan." With her hands on her sassy little hips, Ella piped up "HE said I can stay up as LATE as I want!" 

yep. he sure did. thanks a lot mr. "doctor." 

This week I cut the boys' sleepy meds in half. I explained to the family what we're going to be doing. We agreed it would be a little weird for a while. And there have to be rules so that Daddy and I can still watch grownup shows and hang out by ourselves. But there won't be pressure to go to bed for a while, until we figure out how much sleep each body really needs. Everyone whooped and hurrayed and thought this was a super idea. (Everyone except Tired Mama.)

Aidan has been falling asleep around 8:30 instead of 7. Ben is groggy by 8:30 but feels he should make full use of his new freedom and stay up as late as he can. By 9, he is tired and grumpy. He said he didn't like the new way of going to bed 'whenever'. I laughed and said he can go to sleep earlier, he just chose not to! Jonah usually goes into his room at 9, and relaxes by himself--awesome. He also told me he didn't like this new way of doing things. Getting used to change takes a little time.

Little Miss Ella just keeps puttering around, every night, while her brothers fall, one by one, to sleep. She's been going to sleep anytime between 8:45 and 9:45. Waking once during the night, and then waking around 5:30 or 6am. Not too bad. We're tracking her sleep so we have data to bring to the doctor in a couple weeks. Then we'll move on to more steps in the plan.

When I'm presented with something that someone I trust says will help my kids, I jump right on board. As long as I trust that person. Sometimes I have trusted doctors and they have been wrong. But I'm choosing to wholeheartedly trust this sleep doctor, do what he says, and see what happens. We've done a lot of 'interesting' and 'unique' things on our Special Needs Path, but this sleep thing is probably one of the more uncomfortable ones for me. On the one hand, it gives our family freedom. Freedom to relax, be together without the pressure of getting everything done and everyone to bed by a certain time. I like that. 

But on the other hand, Alex and I have spent 11 years doing bedtime a certain way, so it's hard to do something so totally new. When you start your parenthood journey by having multiples, you quickly learn if you are a Schedule Mama or not. For many things, I'm an easy-peasy-flowy Mama. We go with the flow, no structure. But for other things, like bedtime, I'm a Schedule Mama. And I hate letting the control of the schedule go.

But I will do my best because this doctor, who I am deciding to trust, tells me this will work to make my kiddos happier and healthier and less anxious and better sleepers. So I leapt on board. We'll see how the Sleep Journey goes. Hopefully this doctor will be right.

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