6 Jan 2017

Correcting Sleeping Patterns for a 5yr Old

Right I'm sorry if you've come to this post hoping to be offered the solution to sleep problems in five year olds as the title may allude to. I haven't got the answers but I do have some things to try and a view from the middle of the chaos to show you what you could be up against and what you may want to avoid!

A little background for you, I have a five year old daughter who never had sleep issues (apart from the usual waking for no reason every now and again). Over the last....well we aren't really sure how long its been going on as it's crept up on us, the realisation that its a real problem...so probably over the last six months it's got progressively worse.

By 'progressively worse' I mean she's been waking up at least once a night and most nights now she is on about three or four times a night and it ends with one of us sleeping on her floor for the remainder of the night because we are so exhausted by it all.

I used to be a very smug mother because I had a relatively good sleeper when she was little, I could put her down anywhere and give her a muslin and she'd roll over and go to sleep. Other mums would comment and say how lucky I was....I just thought I was good at training her and it sort of was really because we read all the books and employed the procedures to allow her to get herself to sleep without aides or us. My husband would comment that I was holding her too much (which sounds bizarre now) but the sleep expert book we read had told us that when she was drowsy and showing signs of sleep...put...her...down... before she got used to being held to sleep! It worked and she was fine, I was also smug because up until she was about three, she had never slept in our bed - in fact she would shun our bed and the few times we tried to get her settled in our bed through those long and lonely teething nights, she would scream and defiantly point at her own room as if to say 'take me back where I belong loser!'

So how exactly have we broken her?!?

Well all I can say is, I don't really know! It sort of happened slowly and through love...my first insight is that she got scared of the dark so we would employ a night light - which is left on all night for her. She really freaks out if she wakes and it is not on. Then came not just walking away from her room at night once the door was closed, I had to sit outside the door - this I didn't mind as it only lasted about five minutes at most. Then recently came some challenges in her little life where she was bullied at school and she became clingy and fractious at home, she didn't want to be parted from me and at bed time requested that I sit in her room. Sometimes I'd stroke her head as she fell asleep, marvelling at her beauty and I loved being able to watch her drift off to sleep, it started to become a bit more annoying and time consuming as dinner had to be made and work to be done downstairs. But I did it because I felt sorry for her and we didn't get much time alone together with cub around, it sort of became our thing...a few moments to be close to each other.

This brings us to our current predicament and being slaves to the night wake ups, she sites nightmares, feeling sick or just not being able to sleep as her reasons for wandering in to us. I'd say a couple of those times each night she is zombie like and will easily be shepherded back to bed and be asleep within seconds again...these wake ups she doesn't even remember the next morning. The challenge comes when she takes a little longer to go back to sleep, gets panicky if you leave her before she is asleep and then you end up falling asleep on her floor and waking an hour later, cold and very tired!

Just to add into the mix, cub has been waking more and in our dazed state we have been letting him into our bed to sleep and it was only a few times but he seems to have got used to it and he too over the Christmas break has been coming into our bedroom every night. Just after new year we realised that we need to take action as none of us could continue like this, the adult who dealt with Bubba's wake ups would be tetchy and annoyed for the day (usually the husband as it's his side of the bed she gets to first (whereas Cub makes his way around to my side and we snuggle up together...he's not stupid that one!)). So I'm not sure why we decided to tackle it now but I think I was stood in the kitchen after putting them to bed (separately) and googled sleep problems in a 5yr old.

Our plan of Action

So the article said that if you take out all the external factors of wake ups like change of circumstance where you would need to consult sleep specialists, it would probably be due to them using you as a sleep aide. Suddenly it all made sense and we decided to tackle in the following night - by the time you read this we will be five nights in (& I hope in a better place with it all).

What are we doing?

Letting her fall asleep alone : Well first off we have gone back to doing the bedtime routine and saying goodnight and leaving the room. The first night I started in the doorway and then the last two nights I've sat outside (tonight she had a wobble but a cuddle and reassurance that I was outside was all it took). We've made the room and surrounding area the same as when she is waking up in the night - so hallway lights are out as is the bathroom light.

Next (this is the killer at the moment) we are putting her back to bed when she does wake and again sitting outside her room. Before we relied on that little sleep on her floor to get us through although it hurt when you woke up and the next day it did us no favours. Going back to the first time saying 'it's bed time baby' and taking her back, next wake up just guiding her back without a word and carrying this on for all future wake ups.

The first night was a total disaster as she got up five times and complained of feeling sick (the usual we thought) but when I took her back time four she was really unsettled and writhing around, so take back number five I got the sick bowl and she was actually sick (something she had ate I think) so I ended up camping out on her floor for the evening.

Last night it was only three wake ups and hubby and I both slept in our own bed alone for at least three hours together. So it seems to be progress!

I must also add that at the same time we've been sleep training the toddler too and this is why we are so exhausted. He seems less willing to be fobbed off with sleeping alone in his own bed, we have been following the same process with him but he puts up a fight when I return him to bed. So I've had to do lots of rapid returning and then trying to sit outside the room again. Last night I was so tired that Hubby took over the last wake up but he sort of lay down in the gap between our two bedrooms so Cub could see his feet but nothing more. We took that as a win!

I'm very anxious tonight to go to bed and feel rather weepy with it all but know we couldn't carry on as we were any longer. It's not nice to know you'll be woken and that you'll have to spend at least 20 minutes awake each time (well so far anyway). I've got jaw ache as I seem to be clenching it a lot throughout the day and my shoulders are somewhere up round my ears.

I just need to remember that we are doing this out of love and not malice and it's the best thing for them to get a good nights sleep (& us). It's just really hard work with them both and I feel really down that I have broken them both so easily and that we have got to this point. I know the external factors of bullying have made me more easy on her and made her more fearful and anxious causing sleep problems. I just really want the best for them both, wish us luck tonight.

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