Number 5 has always been a good sleeper.
She learned to sleep on her own when she was a baby — we never had to make her cry it out. One day around five months old, she slept through the night. And that was it.
There was a phase when she was two or three where we had a pre-bed routine that had become a little bit out of control, and now, in hindsight, I can acknowledge I was highly influenced by her cuteness.
Other than that, sleep has always been easy for Number 5.
Even now, she tells us when it’s time for bed. She is ready before anyone else. She is not the kid who asks for just 5 more minutes.
She is the kid who says, Mom, I need to go to bed NOW.
She does have some anxiety about going to sleep when it gets past 9 pm because she knows she will be tired the next day.
And she does not like being tired.
And I don’t like when she is tired.
Because, like her mother, when Number 5 is tired, well…
It’s not good.
Sometimes she starts to obsess about how late it is and then some self-induced sleep anxiety kicks in. But that happens very infrequently.
Until the past week.
This past week Number 5 developed a massive case of anxiety-induced insomnia.
It wasn’t the kind of insomnia where you can’t fall asleep initially.
It was the kind where you wake up an hour or two after you fall asleep and you cannot get back to sleep.
Being so good at falling asleep, Number 5 also kind of panics on those rare occasions when she’s been lying in bed for longer than five minutes and she’s still awake.
Ten minutes feels like an eternity to her.
And that’s what happened this past week.
She woke up, worked herself into a frenzy, and then it was all over.
She was a mess.
The first night this happened I lay down in her bed with her until she fell asleep.
It wouldn’t have been so bad except this happened at 1:30 a.m. the night I got back from the Marie Forleo Experience, and I hadn’t gotten into bed yet, and 1:30 a.m. is WAY past my bedtime.
On Tuesday I was exhausted.
Number 5 woke up at 10:45 pm on Tuesday night, and again she couldn’t get back to sleep.
On those rare nights when she has trouble falling asleep initially, we have worked on strategies to remain calm and relaxed and not focus on sleep and build the anxiety.
We focus on breathing, counting to five on the inhale, and then counting to five on the exhale. This is usually effective.
I lay down with her on Tuesday. I rubbed her back. I was super tired by this point because the night before had kicked my ass.
She was thrashing around out of frustration, but eventually she settled down.
Around 11:30 I went downstairs.
Around 11:35 Number 5 was standing in my room.
She asked if she could sleep in bed with me.
I told her no.
In all my years of parenting, the one thing I have remained firm on is nobody sleeps in the bed with me. I know how quickly bad habits form. I did not want to form this one.
I told Number 5 to go back to her room and lie in bed. I told her she just had to relax and not think about falling asleep. That (as someone dealing with menopause-related insomnia), I understand how fucking annoying it is. I didn’t say fucking, though.
I told her that every time she climbed out of the top bunk of her bed and then walked down the stairs into my room, she was starting back over from zero as far as getting closer to sleep.
I wanted her to just stay in her bed. She had to learn that sometimes you wake up and you have to lie there for a while and it’s boring and it sucks but eventually you will fall asleep.
She was like, um….
But she didn’t say fuck.
This continued for about an hour and I was so tired I was getting less and less understanding and now I was starting to panic myself because I was up after midnight for the second night in a row, and my body and brain do not like that.
The third night was a replay of the night before except it was much worse and now Number 5 was completely in a panic, and now I was also on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
So I spent some time thinking about this on Thursday.
This was completely in Number 5’s head.
She was saying, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to fall asleep” before we even got to her room.
If anyone mentioned the s-word, she freaked out.
DON’T SAY SLEEP!!!!!
Her brain was doing a number on her. Big time.
I thought about giving her Benadryl or cold medicine or something that would knock her out. Just to give the two of us a break.
I thought about giving her some sort of placebo “special sleep vitamin.”
That would probably work in the short run.
But it would be a band aid.
And then she’d be asking for medicine or special sleep vitamins every night.
So I lay down with her that 4th night.
I read some Shiloh to her.
I sang her a song and rubbed her back, just like we usually do.
It was 8:40 by the time we were all done with the routine.
Number 5 told me she was starting to worry.
I reminded her of the strategies she could use. To count and focus on her breathing. To picture a stop sign any time her brain started to wander, and go back to counting and breathing. To not think about falling asleep. Just to relax and stay in the moment and breathe.
I told her I would come up to check on her at 10 pm. I had some cleaning up to do and some laundry to fold, so I told her I’d set an alarm for 10 so I wouldn’t forget, and I’d come up and see how she was doing.
If she was still awake, I would lie down with her.
But unless she was bleeding or on fire or about to puke or poop herself, she had to stay in bed.
And that night Number 5 slept through the night without even a little blip on the insomnia radar.
She managed her thoughts and she kept herself calm.
She came downstairs at 7:15 the next morning with a huge smile on her face. She was relieved and she was proud of herself and she was rested.
And she learned that she is driving the bus. She managed her thoughts and her emotions.
I think this is one of the biggest failures of our educational system.
We do nothing to teach our children that they control their thoughts.
We so often look for a way to manage the symptoms rather than getting to the root of the problem.
We look to other people and situations to blame rather than teaching our kids that they are in control!
We look for quick fixes that don’t address the root of the cause.
Everything that was going on with Number 5 last week was in her own head.
She was creating thoughts that were keeping her from sleeping.
And together we worked on changing her thoughts.
We did the same thing last night.
And she slept through the night again.
This was an exercise in thought management for me as well.
Because you know what I did that first night Number 5 managed to manage her thoughts and get a full night’s rest?
I stayed up because I was so scared she was going to wake up that I didn’t want to fall asleep. Because I didn’t want her to wake me up because then I was going to be completely exasperated.
Rather than get myself to bed early right after she went to sleep, I was up until midnight again, waiting for her to wake up!
And that never happened.
So I’ve learned my lesson, too.
Stay in the moment.
Don’t worry about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.
And the only person who controls what you are thinking in any situation is…