Problem Solved?

My son Emmett has always had a rough time sleeping. I am talking since day one. As a baby, the tiny creak of a floorboard as we walked out of his room would jolt him out of the sleep that we had just spent an hour rocking him toward. Nap times were a constant source of frustration for me. He hated them and I was always stressed about what I was doing wrong and why it seemed to be so easy for other babies and the moms attached to them.

When he was a toddler, we knew that it was actually a good sign when he completely lost it and started screaming. This meant that he was actually close to sleep even though he might have been in his crib or bed for an hour already. Aaron and I were both pretty numb to it and used to the routine but a friend who stayed in a hotel with us was horrified and asked if maybe our son needed counseling. That’s how bad it was.

As he got older, the time it took to fall asleep got longer. By the time he was in kindergarten, it was not uncommon for him to be awake in bed for 2 hours before he was sleeping. Learning to read was a helpful thing because he finally had something to do with his mind during that time.

One more thing…you could NOT tire this kid out. There was no such thing. He could run and play and be active in 50 things all day long and he would still struggle to find sleep that night. It also didn’t matter what time you put him to bed. I never pushed it too far back because most research suggests that sleep begets sleep and, ironically, pushing it a little earlier helps them most. I never put him to bed before 8 but we did try it later and he was still up for 1 – 2 hours.

So, we tried all of the things we could think of. We had a bedtime routine since the day he was born. We read to him every night. We tried baths before bed. We tried warm milk. We tried classical music. We tried white noise. I tried massaging him before bed. We even put him in yoga for a while because I had hoped that the deep breathing and relaxation strategies might help him calm his body better. None of these things made a difference.

Meanwhile, Emmett was getting more and more anxious about bedtime. I felt so bad for him but, as I explained to him many times, I could not solve this for him. I worried more and more as his anxiety increased. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from watching too many episodes of Intervention, sometimes drug addicts were kids who had a hard time sleeping.  In my head, I could already see him strung out and blaming the start of his problems on the years of anxiety over bedtime. Rational? No. But I was tired of freaking out.

To be honest, our pediatrician had been pushing me for years to give him either an allergy pill like Benadryl or melatonin before bed. If I had tried everything else (I had) then he said it was time to look to other options. I resisted for a long time. I didn’t want Emmett to have the idea that he needed a pill every night to fall asleep. Finally, however, I relented because it felt to me that the anxiety of not sleeping was worse than the idea that he would take a pill at night.

So, I went and bought melatonin. He takes a quarter of a pill and dissolves it under his tongue about a half an hour before bed. The difference has been astounding! I had no idea it would be this profound. The kid actually asks to go to sleep. He doesn’t read in bed because he’s too tired and he is falling asleep within 15 minutes of putting him down. There is no more walking into his room at 10:15 to tell him that I am going to sleep and I hope he can do the same soon. I am amazed.

I also find it a bit scary. This tiny quarter of a pill that I buy in the natural foods section of our grocery store has changed our son’s life. His anxiety about falling asleep is gone but what is it doing to his brain that the difference is so dramatic? Was his body just not making enough melatonin before? Am I teaching him that the answer to his problems is going to be found in a bottle?

I am honestly not sure. I don’t know the right answer. I wonder if any of you have gone through similar experiences? Have you found answers? I know that parenting often makes you fly blind and trust your gut. I am not sure yet what my gut is telling me. I would love any stories that might help.

2 thoughts on “Problem Solved?

  1. HI! I found this post while searching for melatonin reassurance because I have a 8 year old who takes soooo long to fall asleep (we’ve done all the right sleep hygiene stuff). He just seems wired to fall asleep around 10pm and sleep in until 8 or 9 am which would be all fine and dandy if we didn’t have to get up at 6:30am for school. Melatonin works and he feels better with more sleep but I am still reluctant to give it to him regularly, even thought it is so helpful. If you have a minute can you share how you proceeded and how it all worked out?

    Also, so happy to have found your blog! Your writing is wonderful! I have two boys, 14 and 8 and so love reading mom writers like you turn what is seemingly ordinary daily life raising boys into the magic that it deserves to be, by reflecting and articulating it’s simple beauty so well. Thank you!!!

    • Hi Megan,
      Thanks so much for reading and for reaching out. Also, your sweet words. ❤️

      My hard sleeper is 14 now and he still has a hard time falling asleep. Melatonin was magic for awhile and then he started to wake up in the middle of the night – which he had never done before. We stopped giving him melatonin at that time. He would just read until he fell asleep and it sounds like your son – he just seems wired to fall asleep around 10 or 11. No matter what. But – he doesn’t really suffer the next day. He will occasionally take a melatonin now if he is having a really hard time but it’s pretty rare.

      Good luck in figuring out what works for you guys!

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Right from the Start

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Living the writer's life in Seattle

Running After Ale

I'm constantly running after my toddler Ale (Á-le). I'm out of breath and having the best time!

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