Sleep. Is there any topic more discussed amongst parents and caregivers of children? I doubt it.
In fact, as I write this our four year old daughter is sleeping on the couch in our living room just a few feet away from me. And no it isn’t because she’s spoiled, or because she lacks discipline, or even because I don’t know how to say “no”.
She is sleeping on the couch because after the bedtime routine that we follow religiously every single night, she fell asleep there.
And I’ll be damned if I’m going to wake up a child who is sleeping.
Sometimes I have to work. Sometimes I have to clean up the kitchen and prepare everything for the next morning for her and her three siblings. Sometimes I just need a freaking break. So, she’s asleep on the couch. And that’s where she will stay until she wakes from a night terror, or to pee, or for any other assorted reason and we begin our two to three hour marathon of trying to get her back to sleep.
We have four children. Our oldest daughter is sixteen now. She was born the day before her due date, after a textbook pregnancy and delivery. I followed all the rules when I was pregnant with her. All. The. Rules. I didn’t drink a single caffeinated beverage. Not one.
That perfectly healthy and beautiful little bundle of joy didn’t sleep.
And I mean hardly ever. She seemed to be able to have a one hour nap and then stay awake for the next eight. I read every book I could get my hands on about sleep issues in infants. Then I read every book I could get my hands on about sleep issues in toddlers. I tried everything. Nothing helped, and nothing changed. She was happy and healthy and growing. She just didn’t sleep.
Then along came our second child and oldest son. I did not follow all the rules. I was commuting to a stressful full time job with a nocturnal toddler at home. I drank coffee. All. The. Coffee. I’m not going to lie. I’m still pretty surprised that he didn’t sprint out of the womb and immediately demand a latte.
He was born two weeks late and was immediately a good sleeper. He continued to be a good sleeper through infancy and the toddler years and although he has some trouble falling asleep occasionally now, he sleeps like a log once he dozes off. He’s thirteen.
Our third child and second boy was the same. He slept without any issues.
Uneventful pregnancy and delivery, and except for a few rough months here and there, he slept. He still sleeps. He is now six.
Then I had a child that has never slept
Then along came our fourth. A precious baby girl that has slept through the night a grand total of one time since the day she born. Once. She is the four year old currently asleep on the couch.
As an infant she would sleep for an hour and then be up for three. She didn’t nap during the day and it was a struggle to get her to sleep at night. As the years went by we did everything the pediatrician suggested we try.
We continued our routine of having quiet time after dinner, followed by a warm bath with lavender baby wash.
No television and one or two quiet storybooks were read followed by a cuddle in the dimly lit, not too hot and not too cold bedroom.
We tried using white noise, the Gro clock and reward charts.
Nothing has worked to get her to sleep.
We thought we were making progress for a bit but then she started having night terrors. Do you know what a child could care less about when they wake up from a night terror? A reward chart. And if a child can’t fall asleep in the first place, a Gro clock is pointless.
She wakes up in the night and suffers from insomnia several nights a week. Sometimes she wakes up at 11pm and we don’t see any sleep again until 4am.
Our pediatrician has diagnosed her with Sensory Processing Disorder which her older sister was also diagnosed with when she was four. And at the age of sixteen she still shows up at my bedside in the middle of the night to tell me she can’t sleep. She still suffers from bouts of insomnia at least two or three times a week.
It’s exhausting. It takes a herculean effort for me to stay on top of our very busy schedules, stay caught up on work and manage the daily requirements of raising a family and taking care of a home.
But the worst part of it all is the judgement we receive when people find out that we allow our child to fall asleep on the couch. Or that we bring her to bed with us if she can’t sleep in the night.
I’ve shared our story with other parents and they have confessed to me, in hushed tones while looking over their shoulder, that they have also let their children sleep on the couch. They have slept in their children’s beds and they have let their children come in and sleep in their beds. They are always so relieved to meet another parent who is struggling with sleep.
Wild eyed and desperate to have someone understand that they are simply doing whatever they can to get some freaking rest.
Here’s the thing. Adults suffer from insomnia. Adults wake in the night and struggle to return to sleep. Adults have trouble turning off their brains and quieting their thoughts from the day so they can sleep.
Why are we always so shocked when children have the same issues with sleep?
Why is sleep supposed to be so much easier for children, and why do we force these expectations onto little people when so many of us are unable to meet them?
Some children simply aren’t sleepers.
Whether they have a sensory issue, or a brain that never stops or an imagination that is far too vivid, they can’t help it. Even if a book or the judgemental mom at play group says they can. They can’t.
Is it inconvenient? Yes. Is it beyond exhausting? Oh hell yes. But should it be a source of shame or guilt for parents? No. And neither should the methods parents use to get whatever precious sleep they can.