My son Brody has never been what you’d call a good sleeper. We have always had to sit with him until he falls asleep (still do). He has always woken at the arse-crack-of-dawn (still does). The bit in-between has varied greatly over the years but what was a given is that he would end up in our bed at some point through the night. The bigger he got, the less fun getting whacked in the face by and arm or a foot became.
Brody has an undiagnosed genetic condition as well as autism, epilepsy and a learning disability. This means that as a mum I have had to guess a lot of things over the years. When it has come to his lack of sleep my guess work has ranged from whether he is too hot or too cold to whether he is scared of the dark. Those who walk similar paths will appreciate having to guess these things about your child can make you feel like a pretty crap parent. After all, we all want to know how they are feeling and how we can help them.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve had a few good nights and thought “we’ve cracked it” only to discover two days down the line that a banana or socks aren’t a miracle cure.
But in the past year Brody’s sleep has improved and – as any sleep deprived parent would understand – it’s improved our lives massively.
I know from experience this could change at any given time. I’m writing knowing full well I could jinx things. We had some blissful mornings when Brody woke at 7am-ish last year, which was sadly short-lived. We still have to sit with Brody until he falls asleep and he still often wakes at 5 o’ something (or at times before). But the difference is still huge and we’re so pleased. Pleased for us as tired parents but also pleased that he is getting some decent sleep.
Perhaps there is no miracle cure, but to to the parents out there who can relate to our story, here is what I think has helped:
- An amazing ‘safe and sound’ bed, which of course has a disability price tag – so we owe huge thanks to the wonderful charity Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children.
Our house is practically Fort Knox – it’s covered in stair gates and gadgets to keep Brody safe, but this bed is a Godsend. Knowing Brody can’t leave his room at night is so reassuring (we also have a video monitor and epilepsy alarm). It’s soft so when he bangs his head, which is something he does often, it doesn’t cause any damage. Once he has fallen asleep we zip him in and I honestly think he feels more secure in it. And when he wakes up early – as bad as this will sound – I give him his iPad and 9 times out of 10 he will sit happily in there with it and we can get a little bit longer in bed (huge bonus if he wakes at 4am!).
- Melatonin (prescribed). Brody’s pediatrician prescribed Melatonin that he takes in liquid form before bed. I don’t feel guilty about this. It means that he falls asleep quicker and happier, whereas previously we would sit on his floor for over an hour and he would find it hard to fall asleep.
- No naps and starting school. This sounds like an obvious fix but before Brody started school he still napped and he still needed to up until the age of five. It made no difference to his sleep if we stopped him from napping. But the combination of no naps and starting school, I think has made him sleep a little longer. If your child hasn’t started school yet, hang on in there – it could make all the difference.
- A white noise machine. A fellow member of the ‘wide awake club’ recommended this to me and we haven’t looked back. We have it on a fan noise all night and it blocks out us walking past his room or him hearing us
fart orturn over in bed.
- Lush Sleepy lotion. Whether this really works or not I don’t know – but we started using it around the same time as all of the above changes and we’re sticking with it!
I don’t think it’s necessarily been any one thing but a combination of the above.
And I know that things could change.
But to the sleep deprived parent who has a child with SEN – it is worth a try.