Sleep is defined as a period of rest for the mind and body.
Well I wish someone would tell my overactive mind that because for me sleep involves a lot of tossing and turning. Hour after hour of wondering if I remembered to pick up loo roll when I went shopping, how I am going to afford to replace the washing machine that is on its last legs, and that niggling feeling that I didn’t lock the back door before I came up to bed!
The more I think about sleep the more it evades me. I wish I could sleep more, I love my bed - and the older I am getting the more I realise my favourite place is tucked up in my cosy bed all warm and safe (especially when it’s clean duvet day).
My son however is a little different. He could give or take sleep. He doesn’t even seem to get tired and if I let him I reckon he would stay up all night and not be bothered in the slightest. It’s not uncommon for children on the spectrum like my son to have complex issues with sleep. My son just doesn’t feel tired in the evenings.
I am clambering into my PJs as soon as the sun sets, whereas my son couldn’t care less.
I’m closing the curtains and lighting the candles, and he wants to bounce on the trampoline.
I need no encouragement to go bed where my son needs a whole heap of persuasion.
My son just doesn’t share the same sort of body clock that I do, there’s nothing wrong with that - it’s just different that’s all and we have had to learn to adjust.
For years and years we struggled to get him to settle. We tried every trick in the book and nothing seemed to ease him into peaceful sleep.
There were occasions when anxiety would be the thing keeping him awake, and no matter how much we tried to reassure him he just couldn’t get past his worries. It could be something that was happening at school the next day, or even the following week. But once that worry was in his head it ate away at him for hours, meaning nothing we could say could make him feel better.
Despite using worry books/worry boxes/worry dolls the bottom line was I couldn’t completely take away all his worries, because a lot of them were out of my control - i.e. at school. So the only way to help with this was better home-school communication!
There were other times when he just seemed too hyper to even get in bed. He has sensory processing disorder and can often sensory seek when he is tired, which took us a long time to get our heads around. But it was his way of self–regulating. He would bounce off the walls and jump on his bed, and there were many occasions I couldn’t even get hold of him to attempt to get him to settle down.
Then we discovered weighted blankets.
If you have never tried one then I can’t recommend them highly enough. My son now sits under his blanket and the weight visibly calms him. The only comparison I can make is when I have a restless leg when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t focus on anything else, and I imagine my son feels like this when his body is all wiggly and jumpy. So the pressure from the heavy blanket just calms all the nerves in his body and allows him to start to relax.
There were also times over the years that I thought I wasn’t being strict enough with his bedtime routine. So I would spend hours making charts, stickers, long and complex routines for him. After three or four nights of battling to put him back in bed again and again, hour after hour, I quickly came to realise that as a result my other kids were missing out on quality time with me. Not to mention the fact that I was wearing myself out trying to be a super-mum. So I had to relax a bit about his bedtime, and as a result I think he could sense my mood lighten.
If I look back over the years in the quest for sleep I have tried hand aromatherapy, massage, music, lights, natural sleep aids and even lying on the floor next to his bed.
You name it we have tried it all.
Until one day his doctor said to me had I considered melatonin.
And to be honest I had for many years thought about it on and off. Especially during those nights where neither of us had managed any sleep. But I had always felt that giving my son tablets to sleep was the last resort. I had always been reluctant, as stupidly I felt that by giving in and opting for the tablets I had admitted defeat.
But that day in his office I was shattered and I thought "well we have tried everything else, so why not give it a go?"
And I have to say that from that day forward we haven’t really looked back.
My son now takes 6mg of melatonin an hour or so before his bedtime and it seems to kick-start a sleepy feeling in him that his body just wasn’t doing naturally. So he’s now ready for sleep when it comes to his bedtime.
I also scrapped the textbooks which were telling me what time he should be going to bed and how many hours sleep he should be getting as it was stressing me out too much.
Now we do what works best for him!
I have combined the melatonin with strategies that he liked over the years like the blanket, calming music and lights in his room that project onto the ceiling. And that combination of lots of strategies all together is what works well for him now.
Not every night, don’t get me wrong it’s not all plain sailing, but he has more good nights than bad nowadays.
I soon realised how happier he was once he was getting better sleep. He was able to face the day in a better frame of mind. And the evenings became more relaxed and far less stressful for everyone. So yes, he needs tablets to help him sleep, but the benefits of that far outweigh my initial concerns. I know it’s not for everyone, but the bottom line, as ever, is do what works for you.
We did, and as a result we are all much happier because of it!
Michelle lives in Cheshire with her husband and three kids. Her middle child has a diagnosis of autism, anxiety and sensory processing disorder. She’s worked with autistic children for eight years in schools and also has a passion about the benefits of relaxation therapy for kids and mums alike. She loves baking, reading and sharing her life with others and the ups and downs of living with depression. She finds it a real comfort to know she’s not alone and writes hoping to speak to all mums no matter what they are going through! You can follow her family’s journey at asliceofautism.blogspot.com
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