Sleep, or a lack there of, was one of my parenting obstacles. In all fairness it is a challenge for many parents. And the problem doesn't necessarily end with newborns.
For the record I am the type of person that likes to squeeze the most out of every day. I have come to realise that this is a genetic trait inherited by my children. It is not a bad trait and for the most part it results in wrapping up the day happy, tired, and content to slip into a peaceful slumber at a reasonable hour of the night.
However, I know with myself that sometimes this energy can lead to doing too much each day. That desire to do more can lead to settling later in the evening and can ultimately result in being overtired, unreasonable and struggling to get to sleep. I wasn't always blatantly aware of this cycle ... I developed a better understanding once I became a parent.
As mentioned in previous columns, my children led a fairly busy lifestyle with involvement in a variety of activities. That can, without a doubt, result in some tired children at times. With this in mind I made the most of the down time in the weekly schedule. Sometimes we did more sedentary activities such as craft, playing board games or colouring. And sometimes we chose to stop all together, read a book, listen to music or watch a movie.
My favourite go-to was to suggest that we watch a movie from our collection of favourites. This was a perfect option on a rainy day. As it turned out 'movie day' actually translated to 'peaceful slumber day' for the girls. You see no sooner had the opening credits rolled down the television screen, than the girls would be sound asleep. To this very day, and with them now well into adulthood, both girls still fall asleep almost as soon as they start to watch a movie - even if they are not tired. This includes napping at the picture theatre, which has become a bit of a joke among family and friends.
While this formula could also work for my son, it was more of a struggle in his pre-teen years if he happened to be overtired. He would become tired, struggle to get to sleep, and then become more tired. By now you can probably see the pattern. I think I recognised this pattern as I had a similar habit.
I came to realise that when either myself or my son became overtired we would fidget while trying to get to sleep. Scratch an arm or a leg, toss and turn, get up for a drink of water and so on.
I'm not sure how I stumbled across the solution for both of us but what I can say is that it worked a treat and continues to do so. That solution was really quite simple.
I purchased a couple of meditation CDs - one was about the solar system, the other was about dolphins. And then I set up a mattress for myself next to my son's bed. I decided we were going to learn how to manage being overtired together.
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The first night it took a little more than just listening to the CDs. We also had to break the fidget cycle, which I still believe was ultimately stopping us from settling. My son moved to scratch his arm so I reached out and grabbed his hand, held it and suggested he see how long he could lay there without moving. Setting a simple challenge like this engaged his active mind in a way that was more conducive to relaxing.
I then suggested a gentle breathing pattern - breath in for five counts, breath out for five counts. We did it together and before we knew it we were both asleep. It was like being asked to count back from 100 when you have a pre-op before surgery - one second you are at 95, the next second you are asleep.
Listening to the soothing voice on the meditation CD playing in the background helped boost the sense of calm. However, I think the gentle breathing pattern and consciously resisting the fidgets, while counting to five to breath in and out, was the ultimate key to success.
We only needed to resort to this option on a couple of occasions. The cycle of overtired was quickly broken and the lessons were learned for future times when sleep was a struggle.
For the record I have no idea how the meditation CDs ended as I would fall asleep very quickly. These days you can download meditation programs on your phone, but I think the controlled breathing was equally effective.
- Mother-of-three grown kids, ACM editor Mumma Jak is familiar with the variety of approaches needed to help raise well-rounded humans.