The Zen Of Sleep : A Parent’s Handbook To Sleepless Nights

It is every parent’s nightmare: the child who will not sleep. After they’ve finished a marathon racing up and down the stairs, built and destroyed pillow forts, swerved traffic on their three-wheelers–after they’ve done everything they could to make you pull your hair out–as the last straw, their frenetic days become sleepless nights. And you have tried everything–warm milk, lullabies, threats of no morning cartoons–but they keep going, throwing away not just their sleep but yours too. You’ve had it . You’re asking what did you do to deserve this? Is this the retribution your mother always warned you would have as a parent? Is this some sort of trial of your love, to extend it past the limits of sanity into twilight hours?

But maybe this isn’t normal.It is possible that this is just as unwelcomed by your child as it is for you. Maybe this is juvenile onset insomnia.

The symptoms are few but can be easily interpreted as youthful stubbornness: difficulty going to and staying asleep, extreme emotional vulnerability during the day and loss of appetite. The results are similar to those of adults with insomnia, but are usually read as normall childhood behavior. What eight year old wants to go to sleep at bedtime? But a handful of children are affected by insomnia. However, the root cause is most often a high metabolism rather than the stressful responses that keep adults from sleeping. Nevertheless, it is imperative that children be assessed for anxiety disorders as well as depression if they display signs of insomnia.

As well as these natural causes of sleepless nights, consideration needs to be given to external influences that could impact on your child’s sleeping patterns. We all know sugar andcaffeine are no good for us, but do you find yourself relenting and allowing your child to 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 track. As attentive as we are, deceptive sources can become sleep-destroying 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 supermarket. When unsuret about a food, check with your physician to see if it could be a culprit.

Another external factor that can be adjusted is the amount of television and computer time your child gets during the evening. These can overstimulate the mind and make it hard for a child to relax into sleep. More than that, studies have found that the artificial light from screens affects the body’s release of melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone produced when the sun goes down to encourage sleep). It would be wise to limit access to media after dusk and let the body’s natural rhythms remain uninhibited.

So what is to be done? After raking through your cupboards 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 holistic methods that avoid prescription therapy, such as herbs, melatonin, soothing music, audio stories and the relaxing process of listening to a good story following a nice, warm evening bath to help your child’s body and mind to relax.

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