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Keep the Lights On - Or Else!
April 5, 2012 4:46 AM   Subscribe

My four-year-old woke crying in the middle of the night from a bad dream last week. This has never happened before. All he will say is that it was "very scary." Since then, he insists on all the lights being on in his room all night.

I snuck in a few nights ago to turn off the overhead light, and again, he woke up at 3:30am, and was royally pissed that the light was off. You can even adjust the light with a remote (it is part of a ceiling fan) and he said that 32% was "much too dark" and insisted on full brightness.

Will this hurt him somehow? I don't care about the cost of the electricity or anything like that, but I wonder if it will throw off his Circadian rhythms. Should I just not worry about it? He slept all night last night with the lights blazing, didn't seem to bother him a bit. He has always been a good night sleeper.
posted by 41swans to Health & Fitness (59 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I did this from time to time when I was a kid. I slept fine.

After a couple of weeks, you should broach the subject of a night light, slowly introducing them back to darkness, but in the short-term if he's sleeping there's really no issue.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:50 AM on April 5, 2012


This is why they make nightlights. And, no, it will not harm him. These sorts of events are perfectly normal for children. He's only four. His little brain is far from being complete and, unfortunately, nightmares are part of the growing process.

Let him choose the nightlight. If you need, tell him some story about how this little light is a "special" light that keeps him safe. Make sure you plug it in somewhere he can easily see it from his bed.

Happy parenting!
posted by Thorzdad at 5:02 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


My almost 70 year old mother still sleeps with a light on. Not a nightlight (she has always required night medication etc since her teenage years) and it has not harmed her circadian rhythms from what I have been able to observe these past few decades, nor my dad's (who had no choice but to get used to sleeping in a lighted room).
posted by infini at 5:38 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


He does have a nightlight - he has never wanted it on until this week. He also has two small lamps. He insists on lamps, nightlight, and overhead lights on. The only light I'd really like to taper him off of is the ceiling light at full brightness. It is blinding to me (and his father) but it is comforting to him right now.
posted by 41swans at 5:49 AM on April 5, 2012


Should I just not worry about it?

Bingo.

The only light I'd really like to taper him off of

Why? There is no harm in it; you're only going to create more stress and make bedtime more fraught by intervening here.
posted by spaltavian at 5:53 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


You could also create some kind of bedtime ritual that chases all the scaries away. Sweep out under the bed, spray a bit of cologne, snap your fingers. Experiment! Four seems to be prime age for this kind of thing and it is very common. I will most likely pass.
posted by mareli at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes - to all the above - no big deal, and also to mareli.

And just to show you how bad of a parent I am, the trick I used was to take catnip (magic dust), pass it through a helium cracker (yes, the type for whippits), which was the "magic pipe", and into a clear plastic playing cards case (the magic box).

Close the magic box with the magic dust that went through the magic tube, and place under the pillow, and the magic dust would chase away all the bad dreams. Didn't work? Add more dust! But it only works in partial light, not full brightness.

Worked forever. Although he then learned about Dreamcatchers at age 6, and that worked just as well.
posted by rich at 6:29 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


mareli has it. A symbolic ritual that you take seriously but do in a comforting and cheerful manner will be helpful. There is still a fair amount of magical thinking and these demonstrations that people can find ways to self-comfort will be of use to him later in life, too.

But I wouldn't fuss about the light if he wants it on. Right now the memory of the dream is fresh and each time he goes to sleep he's afraid the dream world will return and get him. As his mind fills up with other new experiences and anticipations, it should become less important.
posted by Miko at 6:29 AM on April 5, 2012


Echoing those who say don't sweat it. He slept all night! That's the important thing.

Something that worked for my daughter at that age was for me to keep one of her stuffed animals near me all day, to charge it full of mother's love, which would chase away any nighttime baddies.

My daughter is nine and has in the past four or five months suddenly insisted that the hallway light be on--also very bright--plus THREE nightlights at bed time. We had an incident with a bat getting into her room in January and night time has been fraught ever since. My instinct is always to break her of habits like these that seem like "crutches." It usually takes a day or two for me to realize I'm being a jerk and that the important thing is she feels safe and secure and can sleep.
posted by looli at 6:39 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


We got a spray bottle with some water and a little lemon juice (for the smell so she could tell it was "working"). Every night before bed we sprayed the "monster spray" around my daughter's room. Anywhere she said she thought there might be monsters, in/around the closet, under the bed, around the window, etc... Sometimes she said we didn't spray enough and we'd give a couple more squirts to the closet door or something. Eventually we started forgetting to spray. Now our younger one's having nightmares and our older daughter suggested with a wink and a nod that we get her some "monster spray".
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:46 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a child, I would have been very appreciative to have just been allowed to sleep in the light. The other creative suggestions are fine, too, but your child has already stated how they prefer it be handled... with light. Why ignore that preference for some supposed "better" solution brainstormed by an adult?

I'm also not sure I like the idea of teaching them to rely on a superstitious ritual, rather than their preferred, almost proto-scientific instinct for empirical observation to allay their fear. When I was young, I wanted the light on because if I woke up scared, I could quickly look around a lit room, see that all was as it should be, and get back to the business of trying to sleep. This seems healthier to me than waking up scared and trying to muster faith in some strange ritual.

Make sure the light in their room is an efficient one, and trust them to know what will help them most.
posted by gilrain at 6:49 AM on April 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I sleep with the light on... and I'm OK!
posted by anaelith at 6:59 AM on April 5, 2012


Thanks everyone - if he continues to sleep as per usual, I'm not going to worry about it!
posted by 41swans at 7:11 AM on April 5, 2012


I get what gilrain is saying and think that's a perfectly valid way to approach the situation. However, children have incredibly developed imaginations and sometimes figuring out a way to make them feel comforted and get to the root of the problem of feeling secure goes beyond a five senses approach. It's the difference between "I can see that there are no monsters in my room right now" and "I know that I am safe in my room."

So I see finding a ritual that helps your child feel safe as a valuable practice rather than reliance on a superstition. Eventually he will learn that there are and will be no monsters in his room and will not need the ritual anymore, but until then I really don't see the harm in creating one while there is a need.
posted by Kimberly at 7:11 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went through this with my youngest- she wanted the bathroom light on all night which kept me awake because it shined in my room.
No, sleeping with the light on won't hurt him but yes, it can disrupt your sleep, making you grumpy, which isn't the best thing for him. :)
Have you ever burned white sage (smudge sticks)? It is supposed to cleanse the room of evil spirits (I know, sounds hokey). Whenever my children have nightmares, they ask me to smoke out the bad dreams. I use the sage all over the house with the children watching. They then go to sleep still smelling the smell, confident that mommy smoked out all the bad dreams. It works for us.
If that is too weird, why not try a lavender sachet? Tell him it has magical powers that will protect him. He will be able to smell it in his sleep, to know that it is there (kind of like the light being on without the bother of having the light on).
Sweet dreams to you and yours.
posted by myselfasme at 7:11 AM on April 5, 2012


as one data point, my parents dismissed similar fears i had as a small child and forced me to just sit in the scary darkness by myself, and you know what? i still remember those fears, and i still remember having my concerns dismissed. if i were you, i would "indulge" the kid a little.
posted by facetious at 7:13 AM on April 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I sleep with the lights on even though I'm 21 years old...I just find this more psychologically comfortable for me.

The only thing is that I don't feel as rested when I sleep with the lights on (which I do every night). But, I'm slowly growing out of the need to have the lights on. It takes time, but this is something that your son will probably grow out of too. And if not, that's fine just as long as he gets SOME sleep.
posted by livinglearning at 7:22 AM on April 5, 2012


My nephew slept with his room light on until the age of seven. He has a very active imagination, putting a lamp by his bed that had a built in nightlight in the end seemed to help him as he could just reach over and turn the lamp on to get full brightness when needed. He is now 11 and still has the hall light and his lamp/nightlight on at night and he's a perfectly normal kid.

You might be able to at a later date slowly ween him off of some of the lights. I've known one family let their kid sleep with a nerf sword to defend himself and that helped him feel secure, the main thing is letting your child feel safe and that you respect his fears.
posted by wwax at 7:25 AM on April 5, 2012


I'm sort of against the whole lemon juice/ritual/cologne thing; all that does is confuse kids by lying to them... supplanting complicated superstition in place of falsifiable truths.

The simple truth is: if a monster wants you, he'll get you. Magic rituals, lights, or cologne have not been shown to have any effect. This is, if anything, an opportunity to teach your child about the preciousness and fragility of his one life.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 7:30 AM on April 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah don't worry about it, let her have the light. If you have the option to buy a cheap torchiere with a less bright setting, that might work best; but in the absence of that option, light is fine. It's not a big deal and it's just a phase, it'll pass.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:31 AM on April 5, 2012


The simple truth is: if a monster wants you, he'll get you. ... This is, if anything, an opportunity to teach your child about the preciousness and fragility of his one life.

Good lord, if my mom or dad had said this to me when I was going through that stage (and I have a very active imagination, so I went through "that stage" for quite some time) I would have been chronically sleep-deprived for, oh, my entire childhood. IMHO, there's plenty of time for him to learn about the preciousness and fragility of life when he's a bit older.

I'm almost 30, and sometimes if I watch or read something particularly scary, or have a nightmare and wake up, I'll still turn a small lamp on for the remainder of the night so I can get back to sleep. I'm a functioning adult with a good job, great relationship, etc etc. Hasn't harmed me.
posted by alleycat01 at 7:42 AM on April 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


An option for you also might be to lower the wattage on his light. If he has a 60 or 100 in the overhead, maybe a 40 would make it a little less glaring. I also think a nearby flashlight is a good idea. Maybe wait a little while for the memory to die down a bit and then introduce the flashlight. I was also petrified of the dark as a kid. I don't think my parents did anything special for me but, looking back, a flashlight and a nightlight would have gone a long way, I think.
posted by amanda at 7:42 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Meant to finish with -- your kid will be fine! Good on you for trying to approach his fears from the best angle.)
posted by alleycat01 at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2012


If there are percentages on the dimmer, turn it down 5 percent every night or so.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:10 AM on April 5, 2012


My son and daughter are the same way. They have night lights, but prefer something a little brighter. Each of them has a small lamp in their closets and we shut the door halfway so it's not REAL bright, but bright enough they can see and read books till they fall asleep.

My daughter even has a small pink Christmas tree in our room that we use as a night light when she sleeps in our bed.

As far as I can tell, they seem to be fine!
posted by Sweetmag at 8:25 AM on April 5, 2012


Another possibility: glow in the dark stars only work when the lights are out.
posted by mareli at 8:35 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The simple truth is: if a monster wants you, he'll get you. Magic rituals, lights, or cologne have not been shown to have any effect.

This cracked me up, but yeah, I don't think I'd say it to a four-year-old.
posted by pete_22 at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things that my folks did for me - whether it was dreams, movies, books, tv shows, was to emphasize that the monsters I was scared of (this in the age range of your son -- ages 4 to 8) was to talk about imagination and that monsters are not real, they're "imaginary." This actually comforted me a great deal. Now, I never requested all the lights on, I think there was enough ambient light from the windows I never was scared of the dark, but it would be helpful to talk through the differences between imaginary things and real things. Not of course, that imaginary things can't be scary, but that they can't hurt you in the same way as "real" things do, and that your son has the power to control those imaginary things. That skill has served me well.

I would not force the lights off, and certainly not *his* light without his consent. I would probably ask that he opt-in to the light nightly. No judgement, just a quick question at tuck in time - just "lights on or off tonight?" - and an "ok" from you when he replies.

If you were in a small enough home that his lights being on impacts someone else, you have an additional issue on your hands, how to balance the needs of several people to be able to sleep. But it sounds like his light on or off does not impact anything but your own concerns about his sleep patterns.

(And an aside: I used to work night shift, and the skill of being able to sleep in the light is a good one to cultivate. Being able to sleep when tired irrespective of environment is great when coming off a night shift and it's a beautiful day.)
posted by artlung at 8:48 AM on April 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


OP specifically asked "Will this hurt him somehow? ... I wonder if it will throw off his Circadian rhythms."

I added the studies - with caveats - because they may answer this question (specifically with regard to circadian rhythms, even), and which no one else addressed other than anecdotally. "People" might also want to remember that part of taking a question seriously is answering it with actual information.
posted by Mchelly at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2012


The simple truth is: if a monster wants you, he'll get you. Magic rituals, lights, or cologne have not been shown to have any effect.

Data-point to counter this: I slept with the lights on for most of my childhood, and was never eaten by monsters.

More importantly, I slept well throughout the night, and at some point, transitioned to sleeping in darkness. It didn't seem to affect my circadian rhythms, as I still woke with the True Light of dawn.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


41swans, the ages between 4 and 6 (approximately, every kid is different, of course) are when nightmares crop up. That's just a weird developmental stage that happens, and it is perfectly normal, but man is it stressful for the child, and for the parents too! My son had night terrors, and it was really scary for his Dad and me to run to him and find him screaming in his sleep. *shudders* Freaks me out just remembering, but you know what? He's sixteen now and fine. This will pass, okay?

What worked for us for nightmares included talking with our kids about the bad stuff, as much as they were comfortable sharing, when they were ready. Your son might be ready to open up more now that some time has passed.

With my youngest, we talked about the scary thing logically in the safe, bright light of day, not dismissively, and came up with a few ideas together. I told him that when I was a kid, and had the same scary dream a few nights in a row, I told the whole dream to my Mom, and after getting the dream out, I didn't have it again (true). So he told me his scary dream, and felt a little better right away.

I told him my parents left a kitchen light on in our house ALL THE TIME so it was never completely dark in our house, because we had a long scary hallway (true). I told him my sister had glow-in-the-dark stickers on her ceiling (true). He liked this, so we got some for him, and he still has them on his ceiling. I know others who have done this and it helped their kids, too!

Even his older brother came up with a suggestion: a T-Rex is WAY big and scary, so he should just put a T-rex into his dream! And it could eat the scary thing! Which is a great idea that I loved, since it is a form of mindful dreaming, and taking control (I use mindful dreaming myself as an adult). Both of my sons swear by this method.

I think acknowledging his fears, taking them seriously but also showing him that he could gain some control over them, can really work for you and your son, too. If leaving the lights on is what he needs to do that, I'd leave those lights on!

Last weekend, one of my oldest son's friends came home from college. He stopped by for a while to visit with younger son, though my oldest was at school himself (it's very cool to me that friend likes to visit younger son, too). Anyway, we were talking, and somehow the fact that my youngest sleeps ON TOP of his covers all the time came up. And grown-up, living-away-from-home college kid says, "What?! That's nuts. Everyone knows you have to be UNDER the covers so the monsters can't get you!" Which made us all laugh, but just goes to show that we've all had those irrational fears and found our own ways to deal with them!
posted by misha at 9:44 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Further data point - my mom insisted that I learn to sleep with the lights off when I was little (and living in fear that Batman and Robin lived at the foot of my bed and planned to eat my toes, shut up it is a valid fear) and as an adult, if my room is not pitch black, I can't sleep, no matter how exhausted I am.

So yeah, IME a little night time light variety can't hurt and will possibly be helpful in the long run.
posted by elizardbits at 9:44 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reading misha's answer reminded me of something my mom told me once. Sometimes after I had a bad dream I would be afraid to go back to sleep. She told me that if I started having the bad dream again, I could picture the credits of a movie rolling to signal that the dream was over. I still do this when I have unsettling dreams and it works like a charm for me.
posted by Kimberly at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


OH AND ALSO - it is awesome, as a scaredy cat kid, to be ceremoniously presented with a Fancy Grown-Up Flashlight of your very own that you can keep beside the bed or under the pillow to brandish menacingly at threats of all kinds.
posted by elizardbits at 12:03 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you considered starting your son off with the lights on in your room but then moving him in with you in your bed, lights out, when you go to sleep? Lights out + mommy = safe and you may be able to ween him off the light in his room? Of course he may not want to leave your room but I'd try this if my 5 or 2yo were in the same boat.
posted by doorsfan at 12:36 PM on April 5, 2012


*in HIS room but then moving...
posted by doorsfan at 12:36 PM on April 5, 2012


My son's former psychiatrist said that yes, sleeping with a light on would throw off his sleep patterns and should be avoided. Robb Wolf encourages sleeping in a totally dark room -- some of the articles here link to studies, if you want to read more.

That said: I let my kids sleep with the light on when they need to, and it sounds like your son needs to right now. It probably isn't permanent and it probably isn't going to kill him.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:46 PM on April 5, 2012


The bigger a deal the light becomes, the more he'll dig in his heels. It will become 'a thing.' This really isn't the hill you want to die on. Treat it as a non-issue with zero emotion attached to it. Remind him that you're tuned into HIS emotions about sleep and darkness. There's a seriousness attached to believing what your kids are saying, and responding to their requests if they're feasible.

Looking back, my dad often handled things like this quite well. Even in later situations, when I was a teenager, he'd inquire about the desire behind a decision, and base his response on that.
Me: "Leave the light on!"
Dad: "Sure! How does it help you?"
Me: "It makes the room bright when I wake up and I'm scared."
Dad: "I can totally see that, it makes total sense. Good thinking. You might not need it on forever but that's a good decision for now."

This even worked when I was a teenager: "But Dad I really need a CD player!" He'd ask why, and how it would help me, and I'd reply, "Because you don't like my music to be very loud, and we don't like the same music in the car, and if I can't listen to my music I'll be so out of the loop. Plus I just like my music and want to listen to it!" And he'd basically confirm that my reasoning was sound, and that I was solving problems rationally, rather than just whining about wanting something else.

I now recognize this was a genius approach for several reasons.
(1) It reminded me that I was in control of lots of my own decisions, and had to make them responsibly.
(2) It built up my dad's knowledge of my own brain and reasoning and values at any given time. The more he understood WHY I wanted to do something, the more he knew about my priorities, interests, and sense of the world.
(3) It confirmed that my dad would be supportive of many of my decisions and needs, even if it hadn't occurred to him, or even if he didn't agree with my premise. He didn't say "Forget about being in the loop at school, it doesn't matter!" He said he can totally see why that's an important point, and how it would affect me. After hearing my reasons for something, he'd often propose an even better solution!
(4) He helped me build up my own reasoning skills and the ability to view a problem and solution from many different angles. I learned how my own actions and desires had consequences in different ways.

All of this was done really organically. There wasn't a barrage of questions about my intentions - it was just a casual conversation. It wasn't all serious negotiation - just interested support.

I offer this perspective in case it's helpful here, or with other negotiations where you're not sure about his personal requests and desires.
posted by barnone at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


I think it's fantastic that a four year old has already figured out a way to self-soothe in a way that allows him to get back to sleep after horrible nightmares. Good for him! Let him have the lights on for as long as he needs and sweet dreams to all of you.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:55 PM on April 5, 2012


Here is my update after three months of trying everything (letting the kid have the lights on all night, turning them off after he's asleep, dimming the lights a little, dimming the lights a lot. talking to him about it, showing pictures of him safe even with the overhead light off, etc etc etc etc) and nothing has worked.

What has happened is that my son has become chronically tired, is in a shitty mood more often than not, in the afternoons is a mess, and fairly regularly will fall asleep in random places and wake up at random times. None of this works if you have school, camp, or anywhere to be, or anything to do. His social skills also seem to have degraded.

So, we are going to have to "sleep train" all over again at almost 4.5, and rip the band-aid off, as both my son's pediatrician and occupational therapist have suggested. Not sure when we're going to do this, or how we're going to gear up, but it really can't continue this way.
posted by 41swans at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2012


Have you talked to his doctor about melatonin? Might be a short-term strategy to get him back on track. So sorry you're going through this! It sounds terrible.
posted by amanda at 3:00 PM on July 5, 2012


We do use a very small dose of liquid melatonin at the recommendation of his OT (you have to time it carefully, otherwise he falls asleep in his clothes and before teeth-brushing!) but it tends to hasten the beginning of night-time sleep, it doesn't make him sleep longer, or keep him sleeping through a dimmer light. Last night, even though I didn't intend to, was sort of the start of the process. He ended up sleeping in our bed, something that has never happened, not even when he was a newborn. I don't think anyone got much rest last night.
posted by 41swans at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2012


I noticed your list of "everything" doesn't include the "monster spray"/ritual type of effort - did you try that at all, or just decide it's not your thing?
posted by Miko at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2012


That was in the "etc" - I filled a bottle with water, labeled it, and made a big production over spraying the corners of the room and under the bed. Then I gave him the bottle so he could try himself.

In response, my kid said - "I'm not afraid of monsters. I just want the overhead light on, really bright, all night."
posted by 41swans at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2012


So what about not worrying about it? Letting him sleep with the light on?
posted by Miko at 12:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is, apparently, that even if the lights are on, the kid isn't sleeping. Am I right, 41swans?

I don't really understand about sleep training at this age. What does that mean? Maybe you can do a sticker chart for staying in his bed? And set up a little futon pad or kid sleeping bag on the floor of your bedroom for when he gets scared. Leave those as his options.

also, maybe train him to go to Dad's side of the bed? He may be more reticent to wake Daddy.
posted by amanda at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2012


He's been sleeping with the lights on for three months. Whether I worry or not, that's what has been happening.

And by "sleep training" I mean no longer letting him sleep with the light on at full power all night. It may work for some of you responding, who are adults, I assume - but it is not working for my kid.
posted by 41swans at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2012


41swans, is it just you, your partner and your little boy in the house?

At this point, and maybe I'm crazy, I'd set a camera going in that room, without telling anyone else, overnight, and then watch it to see what was up.

I trust my kids, and reasoning with them always worked for us, even when they were little and we tailored the reasoning to their ages. If my child was telling me he just needed those lights on, I'd accept that and let it become the new norm for us. I might try switching out the bulbs for some lower voltage if he were okay with that, but that's it. I don't get invested in the whole power structure stuff. I don't care what other parenta do. I'd just do whatever worked for my kid, no matter what.

So if three months went by, and even WITH the lights on full blast, my son was still not sleeping? I'd want to know everything going on in that room. If he isn't afraid of monsters, what is he afraid of? Why does he want those lights on?

What is your son telling you about this? Why is his room no longer a safe place?
posted by misha at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2012


Ah. So, he's sleeping but does not appear to be well-rested? And you think that is due to the lights.
posted by amanda at 2:06 PM on July 7, 2012


yes, he does sleep - but he wakes 1.5-2 hours earlier than he used to, when he did not sleep with the light on. And he doesn't seem rested, when he is awake.

He stopped napping many months ago, but now he displays the "need a nap" behaviors of old, the meltdowns that tell us he needs more sleep. If he is a mess for a quarter of the day, I can't see how I can just "not worry about it" or allow this to be "the new normal."

He will not tell me why he needs the light on, I have asked him more times than I can count. He doesn't talk about being scared, or monsters, or anything like that. He just says he wants the bright light on above his head. And that bright light on above his head is preventing him from getting the rest he needs.

He knows he can come into our room any time if he needs to, he'll do it in the morning without hesitation. Or sleep with the door open, or sleep in our room, or have a nightlight in every outlet. He isn't interested in anything we offer as an alternative.
posted by 41swans at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2012


Have you thought about taking him to a pediatric sleep center? Or for a sleep study?

This sounds so awful for you, I'm sorry.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have some highly-anticipated (by my kid) travel coming up, travel where he, my husband, and I will be sharing a room. I've started telling him that mom and dad can't sleep with bright lights on all night, but of course we are happy to turn on a lamp or plug in a night light while we are all in the same room together. That may or may not have some effect.

I haven't thought of a sleep study, YRR, but if this continues too much longer I might consider it.
posted by 41swans at 4:32 PM on July 7, 2012


I'm trying to think of other things to do to help, but running out of non-sleep-study ideas too.

Does he get enough exercise during the day?

When he wakes in the morning, is he stressed, or can he just play in his room quietly?

Does the pediatrician think it's unusual? Are there other kids around his age or developmental level that experience daytime sleepiness and a need to nap, or changes in mood? After all, a 4-year-old needing a daytime nap isn't all that strange. When I was teaching K 14 years ago, we were transitioning from a schedule which included an after-lunch nap of about 45 minutes at 1 PM. Conventional wisdom was that the kids needed it. Some kids did benefit from it, some didn't; it was highly individual. Expectations for the abilities and stamina of 4- and 5-year-olds have risen sharply over the last 30 years. But I'm not sure how much we've gained by taking the nap away from the kids who did benefit from it, mood and focus-wise.

The camera suggestion has something to offer, too. It's not that I think there is an active threat of any kind in his room. But if you did film him sleeping, you might learn a lot about what's going on in his sleep that could indicate whether a sleep study is warranted. You'd see if he's fitful, if he's maybe sleepwalking (a possibility?), if he's out like a light the whole time, if he wakes frequently, etc. It might just give you a little more information to proceed with and might be a good first step before going to a sleep clinic.

Part of me would hesitate to do more things which focus on sleep as a topic of parental anxiety, because certainly he's already aware of that and that only increases the emotional pitch of everything surrounding sleep for him, so only if I thought something could be learned from sleep study would I, in your shoes, pursue it.

Good luck, it sounds like it's really stressful.
posted by Miko at 4:44 PM on July 7, 2012


Don't get me wrong, I didn't take his nap away - I've been told for years that many children give up their naps around four, and that is exactly what happened with mine. You could put him down just like you always did, and no napping would occur. I would be thrilled if he would still nap! Now the only naps he takes are unplanned, in the car, or on the couch in the late afternoon, often mid-sentence.

We actually have a camera in his room - we never turned off the baby monitor from when he was very small. It doesn't record, but both my husband and I are often up late working, and we can see and hear anything that happens in there. It just looks and sounds like he's sleeping.
posted by 41swans at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2012


So does the ped think the mood changes or daytime sleepiness are developmentally inappropriate?

One odd thing is that it sounds like it's not getting to sleep that's an issue, it's waking early. If fear were a factor I'd expect the opposite. And you see him sleeping soundly at night.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on July 7, 2012


If he seems to be sleeping but he is so exhausted that he's dropping off mid-sentence, something is seriously wrong with his sleep and he should probably see a specialist ASAP. I don't see much benefit in continuing to try to get him to sleep if his sleep isn't restorative, you know? Sometimes kids have physical issues that keep them from sleeping adequately.

I don't mean to nag, so sorry if it comes across that way. I just have seen the effects of this kind of thing first hand and I know how hard it must be on you all! Best of luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:07 PM on July 7, 2012


The ped thinks we need to get him to sleep without an overhead light on. And exactly, he goes to sleep with little problem. If I could get him to sleep one-two extra hours with the light on 100%, I promise I would let it continue indefinitely. It isn't about setting arbitrary standards or exerting pointless parental control - it is about observable behavioral change for the worse based on too little rest.
posted by 41swans at 8:07 PM on July 7, 2012


That level of sleep deprivation is developmentally inappropriate, so I hear what you're saying. I agree that it's a problem that needs to be fixed. No child should have to be that exhausted all the time and it's not normal or okay. I'm glad you are working so hard on this!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:13 PM on July 7, 2012


LAST UPDATE (and no more comments from me):

We have gotten three nights of 10-hour-sleep from the boy. Three rough nights, but he's down to 20% overhead light (which is so dim, that I can't even find a shirt in his room in the daytime with the blinds down, at 20%.) He is noticeably sunnier, and silly instead of supercrabby. I am so, so happy. Of course I would love to have him add one hour, but this is the most and most consistent sleep he's gotten in months.
posted by 41swans at 5:49 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


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