Thursday, April 16, 2015

A funny thing happened to me on the way to sleep

I was up very late last night working with my two-year old Emily, trying to find some way to help her find sleep. My wife and I have tried all manner of encouragement and discouragement to get her to sleep but nothing seemed to work. There is simply no such thing as negotiating with a two-year old. There is only the art of distraction.

I've fit a few pieces together. First, she needs a bath and she needs that bath at the same time every day. So I will give her a bath every day, on time at the same time. Kids need and like that sort of routine. I find bathtime very satisfying as she tends to lose herself in the toys in the bath and she likes to get her hair washed. She knows how to have fun and enjoys sharing it with my wife and I. My wife and I have agreed that I am the designated bath giver while she tends to my second born at just 4 months, Natalie.

Baths are nice, but there is something else that must happen. She must get into some relaxing activity after the bath, an activity that is conducive to sleep. The fact that she took an unusual 3 hour nap yesterday did not help matters much and as a result, I found us both up beyond midnight trying to find an answer for her to get to sleep. That is more a problem of rhythm than of mental state.

She had that nap because the night before last, she put up a mighty struggle not to sleep. Again, we tried everything we could think of and it wasn't until later, that I figured out that if we give her a reason to resist, she will resist. So I found a distraction from the resistance - drawing - that works because she loves to draw. Well, it's not really drawing, it's more like putting pen to page to make a mark. But she's fascinated by that and she will immediately forget everything if she can draw. Then I found a way to get her in my arms so that I could carry her. She was tired and needed sleep, but something in her mind said no sleep, probably because that would mean, well, I don't know what that means to her. Once in my arms, I began to walk around and sing to her and sure enough, she was asleep. That was two nights ago.

Last night was different. She had a long nap that day and that had created a tremendous reserve. One thing she really needs is preschool so she can expend her energy playing with other kids, but that's another article. I tried all manner of distraction from the notion of sleep to get her on activities that would be conducive to sleep and nothing worked. Drawing, playing, singing, reading picture books, etc. No luck.

But then an idea occurred to me. I remembered my days working as an IT technician at a retirement home. I remembered how I had to sit in the weekly early afternoon staff meeting. The meeting was filled with nurses and executive staff, almost all of them women. I remembered how the drone of their voices put me to sleep. It was no secret that I tended to fall asleep at the staff meetings, and that I somehow, as if by magic, managed a coherent, wakeful and often humorous response when my turn came to speak. The fact that the meeting was right after lunch didn't help. While my stomach was working, sleep seemed like such a wonderful idea. The drone of female voices going on and on about stuff that had nothing do with me in a quiet meeting only served to tip me over into sleep.

So last night, having gone through as many options as I could think of, I seized on a big book of fairy tales. It was pretty and colorful. But the text was dense and each page took about a minute or two to read. Emily seemed to enjoy the reading as she sat patiently by my side on the couch. I knew that her speedy little brain would work hard to process those words and figure out what they mean. The brain uses ten times more energy than any other organ in the body, so all this very busy processing would help to land my toddler to sleep.

Sure enough, while reading three stories the spoken words became a sort of droning sound as my little girl was unable to keep up. I kid you not, the beating rhythm of voices on my ears will put me to sleep, so I'm sure that is what worked for her. I noticed with the conclusion of each story, how she became more and more relaxed. How she slowly slumped down next to me on the couch. It was truly satisfying to see that just reading these classic fairy tales could help her to fall asleep.

Raising children is not easy (understatement!), and with each passing day, I have newfound respect for my peers who have gone before me, their kids already grown up or well on the way. Reading is one of the most important activities I can do for my kids. It is the one thing I want to be sure they learn how to do, so I am setting the example, early. It is a great relief to learn that reading to my kids can be so conducive to sleep. It is such a surprise to me that the big picture books are not as conducive to sleep as books that require more reading than page flipping, though that does make sense now that I think about it. 

It's early days, so I will post an update sometime in the near future on the topic of sleep for kids. If you have kids, your comments are most welcome.
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