The Zen of Sleep : A Parent’s Manual To Sleepless Nights

August 3, 2012 0 Comments

By Mary Speller

It’s every parent’s fear: the child who will not sleep. After they’ve finished a marathon running up and down the stairs, built and knocked down pillow forts, swerved traffic on their three-wheelers–after they’ve done all they could to make you tear your hair out–as a final punishment, their hectic days turn into sleepless nights. And you have tried everything–warm milk, lullabies, threats of no morning cartoons–but they keep on going, throwing away not just their sleep but yours too. You’ve had it . You’re asking why you deserve this? Is this the retribution your mother always threatened you would have as a parent? Is this some sort of test of your love, to extend it past the limits of sanity into twilight hours?

But maybe this isn’t normal. Maybe this is just as unwanted by your child as it is for you. Maybe this is early onset insomnia.

The symptoms are simple but can be easily mistaken as youthful exuberance: difficulty going to and staying asleep, severe emotional vulnerability during the day and loss of appetite. The results are similar to those of adults with the condition, but are usually read as normall child behavior. What eight year old wants to go to bed at nighttime? But a handful of children suffer from insomnia. However, the root cause is likely to be a high metabolism rather than the stressful responses that stop adults from sleeping. Nevertheless, it is imperative that children be investigated for anxiety disorders as well as depression if they display symptoms of insomnia.

As well as these natural causes of sleepless nights, attention should be paid to external influences that could complicate your child’s sleeping patterns. We all know sugar andcaffeine are no good for us, but do you find yourself relenting and letting your child have a few sips of soda, a few bites of a candy bar, as a treat during the day? Even in small amounts, caffeine and sugar can set off a metabolic switch that will push your child’s biological rhythms off course. As careful as we are, insidious sources will become sleep-demolishing substances, such as the caffeine found in dark chocolates and the sugar that gets dumped into processed food, even fruit packs we purchase from the grocery. When in doubt about a food, check with your doctor to see if it could be a culprit.

Another external factor that can be modified is the amount of television and computer time your child gets during the evening. These can overstimulate the mind and make it difficult for a child to fall asleep. More than that, studies have shown that the lighting from computer screens affects the body’s production of melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone released when the sun goes down to encourage sleep). It would be wise to restrict access to media after dusk and let the body’s normal rhythms remain unaffected.

So what else can you do? After searching the whole house for stimulants and limiting the amount of computer time–what else can be done if your child continues to struggle with sleepless nights? Look for natural methods that avoid prescribed medication, such as herbs, melatonin, soft music, audio stories and the gentle pastime of reading a favorite story following a soothing bath to encourage your child’s body and mind to relax.

If you are exhausted by your child’s insomnia, and really need some help to end the sleepless nights, you can find out more at

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