Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Our bodies are designed to sleep at night, to allow our mind to enter a state of complete withdrawal where we can rejuvenate. Yet as natural as sleep is, it is very difficult for a lot of us. Insomnia plagues millions of Americans, and sleeping pills are some of the most prescribed medications available. We label insomnia in different ways, such as initial or early (can't fall asleep), middle (can't stay asleep) and late (wake too early). All are maddening in their own way. I have struggled with insomnia at various times in my life, usually the early type, because I'm worrying and stewing about something. Lucky for me, I can empathize with others going through the same issues. Unfortunately for me, those others have often been my children.
My 8 year old son DJ had a long run of bedtime fears. He started to hear every noise in the house and create elaborate scenarios about the possible source until he was sobbing in the hallway. I tried everything I could think of, including teaching him some "tapping" therapy (google EFT for an explanation), all to no avail. We finally allowed him to turn on his iPod with a sleep mix (prepared by me) that is mostly James Taylor. This has worked well, but he clearly has inherited my worrying mind.
Zee, on the other hand, has had sleep issues since she was born. She was colicky as an infant. That resolved after what seemed like an eternity, only to be replaced by mild night terrors as a three year old. She would start wailing and crying around midnight. She looked awake, but was totally unresponsive to us. In the morning she had no memory of it. This got less and less frequent, until now it happens maybe once every few months. Now her mind is starting to whirl at bedtime, as she processes her day. She often calls to me wanting to discuss some friend or conversation. I am certain this is all just the beginning!
So what's a mother to do? I do use the tapping/EFT that one of our therapists taught me. First of all they like it, it's simple, and it does seem to make them drowsy. I have also tried yoga nidra (a kind of guided meditation), but I need to find a more kid-centered script, so I think it's just my soft voice that helps. I have an alpha wave cd that is designed to bring your mind to a relaxed state, and I can vouch for its effectiveness after falling asleep on the floor to it one night. I have also had them do some simple supported yoga poses, including legs up the wall and child's pose, and taught them three part breathing. So I have tricks up my sleeve, that I have found beneficial for myself, too.
I am slowly trying to incorporate this teaching into patient education because insomnia is so prevalent. It is a symptom of multiple mental illnesses, as well as grief, substance abuse, and just modern day stress. If a particular technique is helpful, it can even assist in weaning off sleeping pills. I keep searching for more techniques to add to my arsenal, since I never know when I'll need something new to try in my house, too!

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