More on Sleep Issues

“Please, God, let my child fall asleep!”  

Have you ever prayed this desperate prayer at the end of a long exhausting day?  I have.  

God does hear your prayers.  He knows that sleep issues can leave you bone-weary, brain-fogged tired for days on end.  Some issues are physical.  Some are emotional.  Some are habit.    

Habits are important.  The habit of making time for bedtime routines and sitting with pre-sleepers if needed is important.  It must be a scheduled part of the day.  It is tempting to throw kids into bed and rush downstairs to the family room for ‘me’ time.  But, bedtime routines are not just for the children, they are for the whole family.  It’s a time of connecting one more time before sleep. It’s a time of giving the children a sense of security by snuggling together.  

Snack. Story. Teeth. Prayer. Bed.  That has been the Guire routine for years.  This set of habits has not eliminated all sleep issues, but it has greatly reduced them.
Check out  this study from the National Library of Medicine’s website:


405 mothers and their infant or toddler (ages 7-18 months, n = 206; ages 18-36 months, n = 199) participated in 2 age-specific 3-week studies. Families were randomly assigned to a routine or control group. The first week of the study served as a baseline during which the mothers were instructed to follow their child’s usual bedtime routine. In the second and third weeks, mothers in the routine group were instructed to conduct a specific bedtime routine, while the control group continued their child’s usual routine. All mothers completed the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire (BISQ) on a weekly basis and a daily sleep diary, as well as completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS).


The bedtime routine resulted in significant reductions in problematic sleep behaviors for infants and toddlers. Significant improvements were seen in latency to sleep onset and in number/duration of night wakings, P < 0.001. Sleep continuity increased and there was a significant decrease in the number of mothers who rated their child's sleep as problematic. Maternal mood state also significantly improved. Control group sleep patterns and maternal mood did not significantly change over the 3-week study period.


These results suggest that instituting a consistent nightly bedtime routine, in and of itself, is beneficial in improving multiple aspects of infant and toddler sleep, especially wakefulness after sleep onset and sleep continuity, as well as maternal mood.” 
If you are struggling with sleep issues with your children and you do not have a routine established, it’s a great time to start!  Your children don’t have to be toddlers to start a routine.  We started bedtime routines with our adopted children (ages: 7,6, and 4) the month we lived in the orphanage with them.  It was a great connection habit that made the transition easier when we came home to the states. when they came home to the states. Boosting maternal mood is an added bonus!

Night Terrors

Night Terror
A piercing scream awakens me.  Three a.m.  A  boy-child  is flailing around, thrashing, hitting, screaming.  Jerry runs to him,waits for the thrashing to stop, speaking words of comfort.  The boy-child has been home in the states a few months. He spent the previous two years in an orphanage playing parent to his siblings.  He is seven years young. The night terrors come frequently.

“Sleep terrors are episodes of fear, flailing and screaming while asleep. Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors often are paired with sleepwalking.

Although sleep terrors are more common in children, they can affect adults. A sleep terror episode usually lasts from seconds to a few minutes.”- Mayo Clinic

“When stress plays out at night. The older a child gets, the more cognitive she becomes, and the more able to store experiences and memories in her brain. The degree of stress, even trauma, that adoption can bring depends on memories of her past experience (whether in an institution or not, whether well-cared-for or abused in some way) combined with the comprehension of her adoption experience (gradual or abrupt, amount of transition preparation, whether or not brought into a new culture with a new language). A child’s reaction to such stress or trauma may be controlled by day, but released when she feels more vulnerable, as at night. Hence, the sleep problems so many adopted children experience.”

I wake up on the porch swing sitting by my mother.

“You were sleep- walking,” she says as she gazes across the road at the railroad tracks.  Another move.  Another house.  Sleep walking again.  At summer camp, I sleep walk into another cabin, push a girl out of her bunk and sleep the rest of the night there.  I wake in the morning disoriented, confused.  I am sent to the camp psychologist who asks me weird questions about my past and haunted houses.  She thinks my fears stem from a visit to a haunted house.  She doesn’t understand.  I spent my first five years in a house haunted by fear, depression and alcohol.  That’s much scarier than a haunted house at an amusement park.

I understand why my adopted children have night terrors.  It’s not what they ate before they went to bed.  It’s their subconscious either re-living or working through past experiences.  Until they come to a place of healing,  the night terrors visit, unwanted and uninvited.

“If you are a parent of an adopted child who suffers from night terrors, it is certainly painful to have to consider that the child may have come from a highly traumatic background.”-

Kathryn Reiss’s daughter came from foster care at age 10 as a “riotous sleeper” — sleeping fitfully, thrashing around in bed, often waking totally turned around with the bedding all twisted. She also wet the bed. Reiss’s reaction was low-key and encouraging: “I never got annoyed with her. I just changed the sheets and told her she would stop when she felt more settled.” Indeed, the turmoil melted away when it became clear that the adoption would be finalized.

One day my son recounted, “the older boys would come into our rooms and beat us up in the middle of the night.”  No safe haven.  No security. Speaking  the truth sets him free.  The night terrors subside.  He sleeps through the night.

Sleep Issues

Those are two of my grandchildren asleep in a heap.  Sleep is a wonderful restorative.  It rests the mind and body.  It recharges us.  So, why don’t children want to sleep? What prohibits immediate slumber? Ten minutes before I snapped the picture, one twin was asleep while the other thrashed all over the bed.  Then…he just fell over on ‘brover’- out.  
“A well-tended child is fed, cradled, and soothed when she cries from hunger or crankiness.  This scene plays out hundreds of times in the first month of life alone.  Through this exchange, the baby learns to trust that her needs will be met and that she can rely on people.”- The Connected Child.
Rafal was seventeen months when we brought him home. In the orphanage, he slept in a darkened room full of rows of cribs.  Lights went out at seven.  The babies were conditioned not to cry because no one could come to their aid.
An infant lying in a crib in a sterile institution may compete with forty other babies for the attention of a scarce care-giver.   During the first weeks, the institutionalized baby will cry, but when on one responds, eventually the crying stops.”- The Connected Child
  It took me a few nights back here in the states to figure out the conditions he needed for sleep. Dark and quiet.  For the first few months home, he slept twelve hours straight every night.
Then something happened…..
Rafal began to attach to me  The circle of attachment was completed over an over.  He expressed a need and I responded.  He cried.  I answered.  Bedtime took on a whole new dynamic.  He began to express needs exponentially at bedtime.  The child who once upon a time slept for twelve hours straight did not want to sleep at all.  
I thought I had done something to ruin this perfect sleeper until I did some research.  He wasn’t ruined.  He was speeding through nineteen months of missed bedtimes. Nineteen months of no one answering his cry.  Nineteen months of bedtime stories with mom.  Nineteen months of another drink of water.  Nineteen months of completing the attachment cycle.
I thought he was afraid.  He was just getting secure.  I swaddled him like a newborn.  He craved the tight blankets or arms squeezing him to sleep.  I lay down with him.  He poked my eyes and stuck his finger up my nose, exploring my face.  When he finally gave in to sleep, I jumped up and danced in the hallway.
“….children hurt by abuse and neglect can learn to love and trust adults in a family setting.  Growth and development continue throughout the life span, and it is rarely too late for a child to change.  The better we understand what motivates these children, the better equipped we are to help them.”- Adopting the Hurt Child

Pinpointing what motivates a child to sleep or not to sleep is not always cut and dry.  It can be frustrating.  Children can be stuck in a ‘no sleep’ cycle for long periods of time.  Some of my other children have had different sleep issues, motivated by fears.  I will discuss them in another post.  What about yours?  Have you thought about what motivates your child’s sleep issues?