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My Son's Sleep Refusal

by Letitia
(Mount Gambier, Australia)

My seven year old son has never been a good sleeper but things have really escalated over the last few weeks. As a baby he was very colicky and I used to have to settle him to sleep. We tried controlled crying with him but he cried for 3 hours and we finally gave up. I used to spend all day pushing him round in the pram as that was the only way I could get him to sleep.

My husband and I recently had a separation and the last few years have been difficult as my husband has been very sick. We are now back together and are trying very hard to fix our marriage. Only a few weeks after we reconciled my son began to say that he could not get off to sleep. He was sleeping in the same room as his brother and so began to keep him awake too. Three weeks ago he woke over a weekend at 0400 and 0500 each day and came upstairs to tell us he couldn't sleep. He said he was afraid of the dark, but my husband said that when he talked to him about this he seemed inconsistent and so reassured him there was nothing to be scared about and closed the door. I was more convinced about this phobia as I was afraid of the dark as a child, and also wondered if all the recent upsets may have caused this, and so allowed our son to have the bedroom door open or a night light. This caused friction between my husband and I and caused our son to start "splitting" and this caused more problems. Eventually my husband agreed to let our son have the door open a crack. We moved him into the spare room and put up a sleep chart so that he could earn stickers and rewards for a good sleep. The chart is still empty. We have had to stop leaving a book in his room as he seemed to be deliberately waking especially early to read it (0530).



We have a good bedtime routine with a shower or bath, milk and a plain biscuit, stories and then the younger child goes to sleep and our seven year old is allowed to read for 1/2 hour. We limit sugar in the childrens diets and they eat pretty healthily. They are very active and do not watch much TV.

We have now got into a real battle of wills with our son. If we let him have the door open a crack he pushes it wide open. He listens to everything outside the door and leaps out of bed at the slightest provocation to see what we are doing. We have tried a hot water bottle, an extra teddy as he said he felt lonely and isolated without his brother, but nothing seems to help. He will make endless excuses - many of which are ridiculous, to get up - like sore legs or "shaky arms". When he does not get his own way at night he gets very angry and aggressive - shouting at us and telling us we "Hate him" and "Don't care about him" which is very traumatic.

We are at a loss to know what to do. Our son is hyperactive and has dark circles under his eyes. We are both at breaking point and it is putting a huge strain on both of us.

Comments for My Son's Sleep Refusal

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Jun 13, 2011
stars
by: Anonymous

Some advice on using the star chart: Start adding stars. I use a star chart with my children and give stars for minor achievements. This motivates them to achieve more and helps them feel successful.

Jun 23, 2011
Some suggestions
by: Anonymous

He may need to speak to a child therapist. I had a hard time going to sleep when I was six after my Father died. I was afraid other family members would die in their sleep just like he did. Your recent marital issues may be part of the reason he is staying up. Maybe if he talked to someone about his fears, it might help him settle at night.

My son fights going to sleep. It is mostly due to allergies, but he has a hard time turning his brain off at bedtime. I have resorted to taking things away if he is not asleep by the time I come check on him. This usually works pretty well. He stays still trying to pretend he is asleep, but he does it so long that he drifts off before I check on him.

Lastly, in her book, The Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg recommends going in 15 minutes before the child normally wakes up and barely rousing them. This is for when babies wake up at 4 & 5 AM & you are trying to teach them to sleep through the night. You are supposed to do it three days in a row for it to work. I tried it on my son as a baby and it worked! Perhaps it will work on older children, as well. It has something to do with where they are in the sleep cycle and helping them fix the bad patterning.

Aug 14, 2011
I completely understand
by: Beth

I honestly have no words of wisdom, but I want you to know that I can relate. My son is 7, and bedtime is the worst part of my day. It has been since he was three. After reading more about it, I am taking him to the doctor to see if he may be suffering for a sleeping disorder. It definitely changes his behavior during hte day if he doesn't get the proper amoutn of sleep. His father and I divorced shortly before his 4th birthday, so I've always questioned that this may have something to do with it, but the truth is he's suffered from lack of sleep for YEARS. He was a bed wetter until very recently. It's tough. Hang in there, and maybe check with a doctor to see if he/she has some tips for you. Good luck

Aug 16, 2011
My 8 Year old daughter
by: Anonymous

My 8 yearold daughter has a sleep disorder. I just don't know how to help her. For YEARS night time has been beyond stressful. WE have had charts and they work briefly, we have a very specific bedtime routine which at times leads to her efficiently drifting off and at times the result is she is in her bed awake. Our diet is good and we now never have any sugar after 4:00 in the afternoon. (bedtime is 8) Now that she is older she does not wake her brother and sister, which has helped the family but she has not resolved her issues regarding sleep. She has convinced herself that she can't fall asleep and that it is happening "to" her. She is so worried that she will never fall asleep that she stays up stressed. If I ask her what she is thinking about the next morning she'll say "she's worried about who will be in her class next year, or she had an annoying song in her head, she's hot, she's cold,, she thought she had to go to the bathroom, she's checking the clock to see what time it is..." the list goes on. We have a very stable life, no divorce, food on the table and even nice family time. It is absolutely learned behavior on her part. I feel like I'm watching her lost in a forest and there is a big path that says exit but she is not getting on it. The ebb and flow is overwhelming and yes I too get angry or cry but also at times remind myself it is 'her' issue, she has to do it. I have found excercise, deliberate excercise like swimming on a swim team has helped not quiet her body but her mind as well. I had originally stripped us of all extra activiites thinking just playing and not having to be anywhere was the best way to go, but for her it actually didn't. We are still low key but we have far less episodes when she is swimming. Maybe that nugget may help someone. Until then I will continue to succeed and fail in helping her and reading as much as possible.

Aug 28, 2011
6 year old girl multiple awakenings at night
by: Anonymous

It is so interesting and helpful to hear other comments about this. My 3rd child has been very difficult this past year with getting up repeatedly at night and it does seem to have a pattern to it as if transitioning thru sleep cycles that we all go through but just don't remember. There have not been anything stressful that I can pinpoint to. I try and tell her that we all wake a little but just roll over and go back to sleep and even likened it to a dolphin coming up for air and plunging back down again, but it is not helping much. She has been doing this for months on end and seems to become even a bit worse lately. The reasons are various and also mostly unconvincing. It is mostly I think to look for reassurance as she is afraid. it is very hard to be patient and understanding when we cannot really relate or get our own deeper sleep attained. The positive sticker charts help slightly but very inconsistent and mostly temporary. The deprival of favorite things like no dessert the next day or limited screen time helps temporarily but again not long lasting so we give up and seems cruel if she is merely lonely. She does seem to be afraid and looking for reassurance and has a nightlight, open doors and I have even resorted to staying in with her when I'm completely exhausted, but this is really a last resort and I have never done anything like that before in the past. She does fall asleep easily for the most part and when has been extremely active physically it does seem to help, but even that is not a guarantee. I am also at my wit's end and ready to see a therapist for her about the behavior to see what tactics I may use next that I haven't thought of. It's become quite debiliating as she is exhausted during the day as well and it affects her personality.

Sep 15, 2014
same here NEW
by: Anonymous

Reading what you wrote about your son is exactly what we have been dealing with for years. He has never been a good sleeper. As a baby he had severe eczema and would scratch till he bled. He also had acid reflux and sleep apnea. So we kept him in our room so we could keep an eye on him since he would stop breathing. Eventually he outgrew all the medical issues. He is now 8.5 and won't sleep alone. The last 4 years he has been with his brother. But lately he has been waking him up or complaining his brothers breathing is letting him awake. He is driving us crazy we don't know what to do.

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