Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dreaded Sleep

When G was a year-and-a-half old my husband got a job across the state, so we packed up and moved. The kids seemed to go with the flow quite smoothly- MUCH easier than we had expected.
Then bed time happened. My sweet son would slowly progress from sleeping soundly into moans and thrashing, then hit the peak of screaming, flailing and hysterics. For hours. He never opened his eyes, just screamed. And screamed. And flailed and screamed. Stiffened and wretched. We couldn't wake him. We tried shaking, snuggling, rocking, yelling, whispering, singing, television, cold water- you name it, we tried it in an attempt to wake him from these hours-long fits. Nothing worked, and my husband worked nights so five nights of the week I was alone to deal with it. I would hold him, often restraining him because otherwise he'd be unconsciously bashing his body and limbs on the wall, the dresser, his bed rails, etc. I would just hold him, praying aloud for peace and comfort for my suffering son, and for strength and grace for myself. I would often get to the limit of myself and just sob, begging my son to tell Mama what was wrong, tell Mama how to help, what to do- anything, I would do it to help my baby boy. Eventually he would just slowly come down from the hysteria and seem to slip back into peaceful sleep.
While the night terrors were worrying and tiring, so were the other nights when his insomnia took over. I suppose insomnia is the wrong word for it, because he did go to sleep initially, though he was restless and thrashed around for an hour or more before sleep claimed him. Inevitably, however, I would wake up at some point during the "good" nights because I would think there was a prowler in the house. While we were never burglarized, we did have a prowler in the house- a toddler who silently meandered through the rooms, pacifier in his mouth, just playing in the silence. We could not gate him into his room because his sister needed to have access to the toilet, but we quickly learned to put a gate across the top of the stairs. Without it, he would go downstairs, open the fridge and cupboards and make a mess, get into any and every thing, climbing on counters, table, shelves, knocking things over, pouring things out, and sometimes just get lost in the darkness and begin screaming in fright.
During that summer my sister, brother-in-law and niece stayed with us for several weeks while my nephew was in the PICU at a nearby hospital. One night we went to bed late and forgot to put the gate up, and he meandered down to the living room where my sister and her family were asleep on air mattresses. The fright and subsequent screams from both parties woke the whole house up in confusion.
Once we began gating the stairs, we would often wake up to G playing in his room, our bedroom, or one of his favorite places- the closets. He seemed to love packing himself in the small spaces amongst boxes, towels, blankets, shoes, what-have-you, and just sitting silently in the darkness playing with hangers, random objects, a toy, or his hands. I woke with a start every time, my sleepy mind thinking some one had broken in and was rummaging through our home, despite the fact that my conscious mind knew it was just him. We learned to meticulously G-proof the upstairs- which was harder than baby-proofing, because he was bigger, smarter, stronger, and more clever than a baby, though more inquisitive and mischievous, too. Whenever I was awakened by his late-night play, I had no way of knowing how long he'd been awake and he was not able to tell me, because his vocabulary still consisted of, "Ma" and "Da."
Between the screaming fits and the late night play, I felt like I never slept because he only every slept during the day. He was an EXCELLENT napper- 3 or 4 hours after lunch time every day, like clockwork. When I'd try cutting back on the nap time in an effort to improve the night time, it was always disastrous. The boy did not take kindly to being awakened, and when I say that I do not mean simply grumpiness. I mean difficult to wake from his seemingly coma-like state, and when we did manage to wake him, he would scream inconsolably for hours. No, that's not an exaggeration- hours. It often lasted until bed time and later because he was so distraught on top of his usual restlessness and inability to settle into bed at night.
When I'd mention it to anyone else I often got the feeling they didn't believe me, or they thought I was exaggerating. Everyone, that is, but my mom. Whenever I'd mention G's sleep-time quirks to her, she'd just give me a reflective and almost puzzled look and say, "Wow. That sounds exactly like you as a child." That was the first of many times she would say that to me, making a connection between G's quirks by describing to me my own tumultuous and maddening "quirks" as a child.


  1. Wow - that must be so difficult for all of you. And yet, I wonder - do you sleep better as an adult than you did as a child? I wonder if there will come a time where your Sensational Square Peg's body will develop coping mechanisms and find sleep to be a time of rest.

    My dear son has never been diagnosed with a sensory disorder, but his hearing is oversensitive and he struggled with things like potty training to an extraordinary degree. And then, I realized I had/have many of those "quirks" too. Knowing that I had those same things and had learned to cope gave me hope that things would not always have to be so tough for my son (and me as I tried to help him).

  2. @April-
    I sleep MUCH better now, however it was a learned thing. Behavior mod therapy with my psychiatrist in college taught me relaxation techniques to help with my panic disorder and translated PERFECTLY to sleeping. Even now my husband jokes that when I get into my "relaxed pose" and he hears me start to take my deep cleansing breaths, I'll be dead to the world in less than a minute. It's mostly true. :-P


Thanks so much for your input!