Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sleep, baby, sleep

I've always been an early riser.  Back when I was working in the videogame industry, I would go to sleep thinking about a problem, and dream up answers.  I'd wake up at 4:00 a.m., convinced that I had solutions to try out.  I'd shower quickly, throw on some clothes, and drive off to the office, trying all the while to reconstruct what I'd come up with.  I'd hurry to my computer and test my theory.  It was right maybe a third of the time.  On the bright side, I was up and thinking and had the office to myself (although Jason, Jeff, and Paul were often earlybirds, too). 

The usefulness of this attribute ended about 10 years ago, when I became a stay-at-home dad.  As a parent, the survival skill is to sleep when your kid sleeps.  Sleep is important.  It's important to you and your kids.  You need it to make your thinker work well.  They need it to help their brains develop and assimilate all the stuff they're learning.  A lot of ASD kids have sleep issues.  Apparently, they don't produce melatonin the way the rest of us do, which means that their systems don't recognize that it's time to snooze.

With my typical kid, I would wake up early (but after 5:00 generally), thinking about things that needed to be done. I'd go make coffee, shower, and play World of Warcraft until my son woke up at oh, say, 7:00.  It was all me-time up 'til then.  Ah, the good old days.

Bed time was kind of fun, too.  We'd sing a song, read a book , make up a story about adventures with Princess Aurora and her dragon.  There was one summer when we put his mattress inside an old camping tent and he slept in there.  It was pretty smooth sailing.

When Ben came along, things changed. He didn't want to sleep.  He would wake up in the middle of the night.  He wanted to get up and do stuff.   As parents, I think we were doing all the right things -- keeping a routine, a night light, comfy pajamas, background noise (cool-mist humidifier), etc.  It just didn't work all the time. 

Lovely Wife and I split up the responsibilities.  If there was Ben action any time after, say, 4:00 a.m., I would not be able to sleep anyway, with my morning-brain, so I might as well get up.  If it was earlier than that, she would generally take over and try to bounce him back to sleep.  This wasn't every night, but often enough to be exhausting. 

Travel is the worst though.  Sleep disruptions always occur when we travel, and there are other people to worry about, and no basement to retreat to.

When Ben was 2, we joined my in-laws and some family friends at a cabin in the San Juan Islands. It was a great trip, but Ben was waking up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and would not go back to sleep.  So that he wouldn't wake up the whole house (2 other kids and 4 other grown-ups), my wife and I alternated mornings getting up with him.  We'd put him in the car and drive across the island to watch the morning ferry arrive.  On the bright side, we both got to see some really pretty sunrises and lots of animals that don't come out in the day.

Camping was tough, too.  We've logged many miles through the scrub brush around Dead Horse Point in the hours before our fellow campers awoke.

Last year, we got phenomenally lucky.  Some friends won a raffle for a week-long stay in an awesome house in Costa Rica and invited our family along.  We used Skymiles to get cheap tickets.  Lovely Wife did lots of research about where we were headed.  Cringing at the prospect of a week with shoddy sleep, I did my own research about sleep and came up with melatonin.  After consulting our doctor, we decided to try it, at least for when we traveled.

A monkey was stealing our apples at this moment.
The Costa Rica trip was pretty awesome.  Ben still got up early, but the melatonin was great for getting him to sleep and for those first few hours.  Fortunately, the house was laid out so that we had a place to play without disturbing the others very much.  We spent a lot of time swimming, which I think kept him tuckered out.

After a little more experimentation, we switched to timed release melatonin.  Bed time was much easier and, except for a bout or two of croup, he was sleeping past 4:00 and once as late as 6:30.  Then I had to go and change things.

At 4 years old, Ben was still sleeping in a crib.  I started worrying that he could climb out of it.  Also, I was planning a cross-country trip to visit my folks.  I knew I wouldn't have access to cribs along the way, so I decided that now was the time to switch to a Big Boy Bed. our relationship, my wife is usually the one that comes up with a plan, and I play devil's advocate.  It's kind of like Picard and Riker, except with a hot lady-Picard and a Riker who doesn't walk sideways.  This time, it was my idea and she encouraged me.

Say, are those meatballs gluten-free?
We hustled off to Ikea and found a reasonably priced bed.  Ben picked out some sheets and the move was underway.  I put away the old Jenny Lind and assembled the Swedish sleep unit.  Ben seemed pretty excited about the whole thing.

I can't recall what that first night was like.  In fact, the next 2 months after that are kind of fuzzy...because WE WEREN'T SLEEPING.  argh.  Released from the confines of the crib, Ben was free to get up and out of his room.  And he did...several times a night...night after night.  Fortunately, he would beeline for our bedroom and not roam the rest of the house.

After a few days, I put a latch on the outside of his door.  It's funny, he doesn't call out for us anymore, like when he was in the crib.  He just keeps trying the door -- rattle, rattle, rattle.

After more research, we began sleep-training him and focusing on getting him back into bed and getting himself back to sleep.  Thanks largely to the efforts of my wife, he's doing pretty well right now.  He's sleeping past 6:00 more often than not (although this morning was 4:30).

Oh yeah, another factor?  I love my wife...I like to spend time with her.  It's usually 9:30 or 10:00 at night before we can really relax and talk to one another, or just watch a TV show.  Last night we started watching Parenthood (there's an Asperger's kid) on Netflix, and wound up staying up 'til midnight. *yawn*

So...that's our sleep history.  Does anybody have any advice to share?  Any tips that worked for you?

Joke o the day:

Did you hear the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac?
He laid awake at night, wondering if there really was a dog.


  1. Um, get a frog pillow?

    We've tried stuff, but we have the same problem as you: Can't make a kid sleep. And travel, man, that was rough. Like 3 hours in the night until he passed out. We also had AJ out of the room, but he would go everywhere except our room. One black eye later, we latched him.

    Wow, how unhelpful can I be?

  2. hehe. (for frog reference, check out the "both sides of the coin" blog)

    i keep thinking that ben wakes up and needs to know that it's not time to get up yet. a regular clock wouldn't do it. apparently the sun won't cut it. is there a gadget that would work?


  3. Hey there. I have such a device in my autistic son's bedroom. It s a plastic clock that lights up like Chernobyl at a specified time that you programme in. It seems pretty tough and bounce proof so far. The green glow is bright and is a really obvious visual that it is tie to get up. Only downside is that I still have to train him not to IGNORE the damn thing. I need to get some sleep so I have the strength to teach him....the catch 22 of my existence at the moment! great blog :)

  4. ok, now you've got me searching for something like this on amazon. must have it! it's 2:30 in the morning! argh!

    (thanks for commenting tho)


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