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4 year old anxiety, sleep

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I tried posting this in nighttime parenting and got no responses, so I'll try here.

This is going to be long. I apologize in advance!!

My DD, who is almost 4.5, has always slept with either my DH or me--me alone for the first 2 years or so, then we started trading. (I have a 7.5 y.o. with high functioning autism who also needs serious nighttime parenting, so we have to trade off with them or go INSANE). She does not sleep through the night and does not sleep alone. She sleeps really poorly--thrashing, sitting up, clinging, needs to be hugged all night long. She is always tired but has not taken a nap since she was about 18 months old--not even in the car after a long day of playing--never, ever, ever takes a nap. She is really high energy, very alert, talkative, generally an intense, spirited kid. She weaned right before she turned 4--mostly on her own, with quite a bit of "encouragement" from me

We have a very consistent, soothing bedtime routine, an early bedtime. She takes about 2 hours to go to sleep, though we have been giving her melatonin for the last 6 months or so (on advice of her pediatrician). Now with the melatonin she takes 30-45 min to fall asleep in a completely pitch black room with her special music CD on and cuddled. Any light makes it worse. Then she sleeps in her bed in her room until about 10-11pm, at which time she wakes up crying, gets carried to the bathroom, and then one of us sleeps with her. If we try to leave she wakes up instantly and freaks out. She wakes up several times after that and is attached all night long. Since she weaned she has been putting her hands under my shirt all night long, squeezing me. I have to wrench her hand out from under my shirt constantly--she's not awake when she does it. It is making me crazy. Whoever sleeps with her gets no sleep.

DS started sleeping through the night at age 6.5, but he has special needs, and I have no good idea what is "normal," or "normal" for an APed, co-sleeping kid.

She is generally anxious about being by herself in a room--she won't go anywhere in the house without a parent, friend, or her brother, including the bathroom. She has nightmares she won't tell me about and I know she is afraid of "night shadows" and various other things. I know that is mostly normal for age 4, but I am pretty worn out by 7 years of intense nighttime parenting of both kids and I do feel like her fear of being alone is excessive. Neither one of them has ever slept. DS only sleeps through the night now because he is on major prescription sleep medications.

If she weren't obviously suffering from not getting enough sleep, I would probably suck it up a few more years. But it is clearly affecting her behavior during the day and I don't know what to do about it. Advice NOT from the "just put her back in her room to cry all night long" crowd & from those who have similar experience appreciated. People are always telling me to stick her in her room & she'll be fine, but she is always telling me how scared she is. If she were mad, that would be one thing, but even at 4, I can't put her in there if she's scared.
post #2 of 13
It totally sucks, and I know how you feel. My oldest is 7.5 so I also haven't slept well in all these years, she has anxiety, insomnia, SPD, etc... Night time is bad for her and then my 3.5y doesn't sleep well either, and did I mention we have a 1y as well? Each parent takes 1-2 children in two different rooms and then when DH travels for work, I have all of them in my bed, which equal no sleep for anyone.

We've done melatonin in the past with DD1 when she was 6 and her insomnia was so bad she was sleeping 4 hours a night for over a 6 month period. The melatonin did allow her to go to sleep quickly just like with your DD, but it made her nightmares worse. I have heard that from some other moms on the SN board as well, do you think that might be a possibility?

DD1's fear of being alone is excessive as well, but I can't fight it, it just makes the fear even more intense so I have to find ways to that I can somewhat manage it without going to insane. We ended up doing therapy at a mental health center for DD1, we aren't doing it now, but it was useful to give us some tools and her an outlet for expressing some of her intense emotions that get even more intense at night. She become better at verbalizing why she was so scared in the middle of the night instead of just freaking out. Night time is still rough, it is no cake walk but I no longer feel like I am standing on the edge of insanity either.

No, your gut is right that you can't just leave her in her room, it will just make her fears worse and more intense. She needs to be assisted to gently realize that yes she has fears, but mommy and daddy will help her with them. Bedtime is a highly scheduled ritual at our house because of the "safeguards" that we have to do to help DD1.

Another thought I had was trying to gently work a lovey or object into the picture instead of your breasts and then eventually working towards a pillow placed between the adult and her at night to minimize the touching. Like having a silky blanket tucked between your breasts that she gets used to touching and then moving the breasts out of picture, and then working on getting a long pillow next to you in the bed and eventually between you and her. We did this with DD1, and while it isn't a quick process that has overnight results, it can be worth it in the long run, and coming from another mom who has battled sleep issues for years, we know that nothing is quick with these kids of ours.

I have to go but that is a start of some of my thoughts. Hang in there.
post #3 of 13
momma! that is so tough. And you are really being a wonderful mom to her, recognizing her nighttime needs and not listening to the (sometimes deafening) call of others who swear by letting a child "cio."

The one thing that jumped to my mind was a food allergy or sensitivity. Is it possible that a food or a group of foods (or things like artificial colors and such) is impacting her ability to sleep? You might want to pose your question on the food allergy board on MDC to see if anyone might be of help there.

Also, have you read The Highly Sensitive Child? It might be worth looking at (from the library) to see if the author has any ideas for bedtime that might help you. I read it a while ago, but I'm pretty sure there were some nighttime ideas for children who were more sensitive to climate, noise, light, etc.

Good luck to you!
post #4 of 13
She sounds so much like my DD (energetic, talkative...), and my DD (also 4, 5 in August) has very similar nighttime issues. I can deal with the long bedtimes but she was having some partial arousals (not quite a night terror, but similar: a disruption in the "normal" sleep pattern) that were taking 1+ hours to deal with at night (and sometimes happeing 2 or 3 times a night). Hugs, mama!

We have tried everything, and only recently have we seen some improvement. We recently started seeing a chiro (she's awesome, and I do think that it's helping...DD has some blocks that the chiro said were unusual). We also went to a ND. On the ND's advice, we added:
-1/2 tsp glycine before bed
-high protein snack before bed (often the sleep issues are related to sugar crashes)
-magnesium in the evening

She also suspects food intolerances (DD has a couple of allergies, but I think she has some issues with dairy, though nothing is showing up) so we're going to try mixing up her diet a bit too. I looked into melatonin, but found a few things I didn't like about it, but I can't remember offhand what my concerns were.

Good luck mama!
post #5 of 13
I know this might sound a little out there, but what about a later bedtime?

I'm an adult who sleeps horribly at night, and I always have. It takes me forever to fall asleep and then I wake up frequently. I have bizarre nightmares all the time (last night's nightmares included snakes and me turning into an Incredible Hulk-like monster among others). I need the room very dark with no light to sleep.

For me, going to bed early exacerbates my sleep issues. I need to stay up late, then watch television after I've settled into bed in order fall asleep as quickly as possible (which for me usually still involves 30 minutes to an hour of lying there with my mind racing from anxiety).
post #6 of 13
Originally Posted by Mommybree View Post
I know this might sound a little out there, but what about a later bedtime?
This was my first thought as well.

I don't know know if it's "normal" but DD who sleeps with us all night and always has sleeps about 10.5 hours a night and doesn't usually wake unless she is ill or didn't go to the toilet for a long time before bed. She does however need the constant contact you described (although she's fine until we go to bed about midnight) and she certainly doesn't have an early bedtime. Tonight she really tried to fall asleep early because she has something exciting early tomorrow and she was out before 10pm which is quite unusual.
She also doesn't like to be alone during the day. She will go to the bathroom by herself but she's happier if someone will come with her. I think that really is quite normal for this age.
As a PP asked, have you investigated food intolerances? With your older child as well?
post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hmmm, to answer questions

1) food intolerances. DS was on GFCF for a while, and it didn't really do anything for him except make him lose weight because he wouldn't eat. I haven't really thought about it for DD, but she does have a lot of sensory issues (just not as bad as DS's). She does eat quite a lot of dairy and fruit. She is a fairly picky eater. I will think about it. She doesn't seem to have other symptoms--she is pretty healthy in terms of respiratory & digestive, so I hadn't thought it was an issue.

2) Bedtime. She does go upstairs at 6:30 and by the time the lights are out it is closer to 7. Partially this is because it has always been this early (due to the no-napping & this is what the NCSS recommended) and so DS's super-strict routine can go uninterrupted. I hate putting them both to bed myself--both DH and I have done it a few times, but it's awful. Also, during the school year they have to be up early, so she needs the sleep. We have been fudging it for both of them in the summer because it's so light out, but that cuts into our precious child-free time, which I really need because they are intense kids. We can try pushing it a little, but she is usually tired at 6:30 and if we wait, it gets worse.

3) The supplements. I think we might need to taper the melatonin for a while. We used it with DS when he was younger for a short while and that was exactly what happened--the night waking/terrors got worse. She seemed to not have that problem, but maybe it just wasn't as bad as with him. I will try getting a better bedtime snack into her and maybe the magnesium too. I am not looking forward to lying with her for 2 hours while she tries to go to sleep w/o the melatonin though

Peony, that is a great idea about the silky blanket. We do have a "hugging pillow" and an assortment of lovies, but she won't put them between us when she is falling asleep. I am sure a lot of it is sensory--I forget that she has sensory issues because she is so much less bothered by them than DS. But she needs that constant pressure to sleep and she needs to learn to fall asleep not pressed against a parent.

Frideart, that is exactly my DD, and the way you describe the arousals is exactly it--like a mini nighttime panic attack. She's not really having night terrors, but it seems like it because she's not fully awake (I know the difference b/c DS really did have night terrors for a while) and take an hour to get her settled down again.

I have not read The Highly Sensitive Child, but I've read 4-5 other books on SPD (for DS, and I'm pretty well versed in sensory issues. At least DD will wear clothes). DD also sometimes participates in DS's occupational therapy sessions and it's pretty clear she benefits a lot from it.

Thank you all! I am glad (well, sorry actually) to know there are othesr who have multiple kids with serious sleep issues.
post #8 of 13
Reading your post was like reading about my DD. She's the same age, same issues.

DD requires me laying next to her to fall asleep, she keeps her hand on my neck until she falls asleep, and we have tried everything without success. We were given the same information regarding food sensitivity, and kept her GFCF for a few months, and after she was tested, it was determined that she didn't have any measurable sensitivities. We installed black out curtains, tried four different nightlights, music, all of it. It was and sometimes still is exhausting.

We have compromised lately by placing a crib mattress next to my side of the bed, and when she wakes up, she comes into our room and sleeps there. She is too tall and thrashy to sleep in our bed anymore, and it was rough for a while, but she has accepted it.

It used to take close to an hour to get her to sleep, even with a well-established routine, now it is about 15 minutes. Occasionally, she gets either Hyland's Calms Forte for kids, or Nelson's sleep aid. She used to take the CF nightly, but we've slowed it down to see how she manages without it.

I have no answers, but it will get better, and gentle was the way for us to go. DD is too anxious and fearful to be bullied into anything.
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Anxious, fearful, and incredibly strong willed! Once she wakes up she won't accept anything other than being completely plastered to us. However, last night she didn't sleep that badly (she had her feet shoved in my gut the whole night though). We do have a separate twin futon on the floor which DH will sleep on--it hurts my back though. We have too many weird windows in our room to make it dark enough in there for her. She'll wake up at 5am in there

Has anyone tried the rescue remedy for sleep, either for themselves or a child? Would it be safe for kids? I'm a big fan of the pastilles. We've tried calms forte and several herbal teas. Not tried the nelson's remedy though.
post #10 of 13
We tried the rescue remedy, and it made her night terrors/arousals worse. Not sure that's typical though!

School ended last week and I've noticed we're putting her to bed a little later (8.30 instead of 7.30). She's slept all night in her own bed, (and without waking!) three out of the last four nights, and is taking a lot less time to fall asleep. It cuts into our alone time, but the trade off seems worth it! Of course, now that I've mentioned it, it'll end
post #11 of 13
Not sure this would help but thought I would put it out there,

The Floppy Sleep Game by Patti Teel

It is a book and CD, four week program to help teach a child tools that will help them to calm down and sleep better on their own. Might be worth a look.

We have not tried it yet but hope to get to it soon. I have a spirited dd who has always had issues getting to sleep ....but she will stay there once gotten there! thank goodness!

I hope you all get some sleep soon!
post #12 of 13
I am bumping this old post because I am dealing with this too. My DS just turned 5 and it is still several times a night. Sometimes its once a week, sometimes it is several nights a week. No rhyme or rhythm I can figure out. Last night was really bad.

We had him food tolerance tested with a Naturopath and she said Potatoes and Gluten/Dairy in combination together. i have put him on a diet in relation to that and seen no benefit. We tried reflux medication and seen no noticeable benefit. He makes a strange swallowing noise in his throat that we are trying to determine if it is just a tic/habit (and if so WHY?) or a physical symptom.

He wakes up sobbing. DH usually sleeps with him in a full size bed. It is just so frustrating. We ask him what is wrong and he always says i don't know.

We are trying the Calm homeopathic stuff and will see how it goes.
post #13 of 13
You may have tried this, but what about a weighted blanket?
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