Sleep Problems : What's a parent to do?

Sleep is vital! Sleep problems are a nightmare! There is no doubt how necessary good sleep is for everyone and how children with sleep problems can mess up the entire dynamic of a family's night.

We know that sleep helps people recover and recharge and specifically, it helps children grow and function. How many times have we tried to go out to eat a little too late or after a busy day with our young ones only to have major meltdowns in the restaurant? So embarrassing! And really, we knew better.

The same way being too tired at the end of a long day effects children, their behaviors and emotions; not getting enough sleep due to sleep problems or disruptions impacts behaviors, emotion regulation and development.

Unfortunately, many of the medications our children use to control their ADHD also can have huge sleep related side effects. The most common sleep problem is the inability to fall asleep because they just aren't tired yet when it is bedtime. We beg and plead and follow the "nighttime routine" but it will not matter if they are not tired.

Now some kids are perfectly capable of just staying put in their rooms and quietly entertaining themselves until they do in fact fall asleep. These kids are easier on parents but in reality, still are not getting enough rest, so bad for their own brains. Other kids are the jumping on the bed kind! They will make sure that if they aren't going to bed, NO ONE IS GOING TO BED! Huge sleep problem, FOR EVERYONE!

So what is a parent to do?

FIRST - don't feel guilty because you want them in bed - if you are like most parents, the kids being in bed is the only "you time" that you get. You absolutely deserve and need this time and have every right to protect it ferociously.

SECOND - work with the doctor to see if a medication adjustment is necessary. For my own son, Concerta was a killer in the sleep department, but Focalin has done better. I know that if the medication is doing everything it is supposed to do during the day, you might be EXTREMELY hesitant to change it. But, kids have to sleep for proper brain development.

THIRD - research and talk to the doctor about sleep aid alternatives. We have used Melatonin. Worked great in helping get my son sleepy. Our doctor had been fine with our using it. We did have to increase the dosage across time and ultimately, we have gotten him off of it with the help of the supplement program we are doing for his copper toxicity. I have had other parents who would not try it because they found some info of concern about long term use? Again, talk to your doctor. Also to be considered, maybe Benadryl. But be cautious, sometimes Benadryl can have the opposite effect, especially in these kind of children. Plus, it is an actual medication with other specific purposes and I myself am less comfortable using it for that reason. Melatonin is "natural" in the sense that our bodies produce it anyway, and using it for sleep is it's specific purpose. There are also a lot of other "natural" products that are specifically designed to help with sleep issues. Products that contain various herbal and natural ingredients known to support healthy sleep patterns. I've had good luck with these products for other issues, though we haven't tried any for sleeping.

FOURTH - pay attention to things that seem to calm your child anyway - sleepy, lullaby music, lots of blankets, warm milk... - We had a CD we used every night for quite awhile but not so much anymore. He does have an electric air filter that provides good white noise though. My son also covers himself (and always has) completely like a mummy with 3 comforters, and some nights goes to sleep with one of those sack things that is full of corn and you heat it up. Also don't forget the whole warm bath or shower, possibly a bedtime story, limit the video games within an hour of bed, type routine. You might also combat sleep problems by instituting some specific soothing techniques into the late evening routine.

FIFTH - try to squeeze as much hard physical activity as you can into their day. Wearing them out is always a good idea.

You also might find that your child has some interesting issues at bedtime? Things like being afraid to be alone, not wanting the door closed, needing a light on. Just continue to work with these as your judgment tells you to. My son for the longest time didn't want to be left alone in his room AT ALL. Eventually, he has just sort of grown out of that, but developmentally, later than would be expected. And forever it seemed he had to have a light on but not so much in about a year (he turned 12 in May). He does leave his door open. We close it after he is asleep. And often he wants to start with the dog in bed with him, though she rarely stays long.

Also, waking at night might be an issue you have. This too might be a medication issue, so ask your doctor. It might also be whatever sleep aid you are using. Benadryl for example is given every 4-6 hours so you can run the risk of waking when it wears off. We have also used L-Tryptophan, but I watched that closely because I think it also somehow made my son wake in the middle of the night. My husband takes it almost every night though.

In reality, I think my son had to just grow out of his waking stage. When he was in this phase I eventually just gave up trying to put him back in his own bed. He had a permanent place on the floor next to my bed where he was allowed to go so that he wouldn't try to crawl in bed with us, thus disrupting our sleep! That's a big no, no. And at this point, that spot is gone and has been for maybe even a couple of years. So there is an end in sight!!

Some doctors are going to want to prescribe a medication for sleep to counteract the other medication effects. Avoid this if you can. Clonidine is one of the more popular ones for this. But I would ask about some of the other supplements I suggested just to hopefully avoid yet another heavy duty medication.

Good luck! Keep working at it. It can get better, I promise. All sleep deprivation aside, life will continue!!!

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