Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Non-Sleeping Beauties

Both of my kids are medical anomalies: they don't sleep.

When the eldest was a newborn, I remember looking at the baby book I had and thinking I must have made a mistake. "Most newborns sleep as many as sixteen hours per day," the book said, "but they don't sleep all of those hours at the same time." I read and reread this. Sixteen hours? No matter how addle-brained I was from my own lack of sleep, no matter how crappy my math skills, the hours weren't adding up. Our baby never managed more than twelve. In fact, ten was about her average.

The book was right about one thing, though: she didn't sleep all of those hours at the same time. I spent the first six months of her life looking like I'd come right off the cast of Night of the Living Dead.

"In fact," the book went on to say, "most newborns sleep for relatively short periods at a time." This was certainly true: ours took 30- to 40-minute cat-naps, precisely the period of time it takes me to fall asleep. And finally: "Some babies will start sleeping through the night at six weeks. Others will wake up two to three times per night until they are at least twelve months of age or more." Oh, how I clung to that phrase sleeping through the night at six weeks. As for the other possibility, I couldn't even bear to think about it.

In fact, our eldest was six months old before she ever once slept through the night -- not bad as an average, we were told -- but unfortunately 'sleeping through the night' for her amounted to about five hours of sleep, tops.

"It'll get better," her pediatrician assured us. "Wait and see: she'll settle down." And amazingly enough, she did. She still didn't sleep anywhere close to the normal amount of time for an infant, but we worked out a nap routine and bedtime schedule that were pretty much carved in stone. For two wonderful years, everything was fantastic and my husband and I often got as much as five hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.

Then we went and had another kid and it all went down the drain.

Bedtimes were no longer rigidly established. If the eldest wasn't waking up the newborn, the newborn was waking her up. Naps went right out the window. Our nights became downright surreal.

Overnight guests with their own infants were amazed when they saw how little ours slept. "Does that always happen?" they asked incredulously, as one of our wide-awake kids made her fifth curtain call, coming into the room where we were sitting and chatting. No one ever came out and said There but for the grace of God, but you could see it in their eyes. You could see a lot in my eyes too, but even more underneath.

One day, I brought up the subject of sleep with half a dozen of the other mothers I was friendly with at our daughters' nursery school in Japan. All of them swore that their kids were out like lights by eight o'clock. Until my kids' interesting condition was confirmed by long-suffering nursery school teachers, the other mothers all thought we were exaggerating. Once they knew we weren't, they were convinced we must be doing something wrong. Either the kids' bedroom was too hot, or it was too cold. Did we use a night light? Yes, sometimes. Well, we should stop doing that. I explained that when we had stopped, it didn't make a blind bit of difference. What time were we putting the kids to bed? Too early or too late? Were we helping the kids to wind down by offering them warm milk, baths, a bedtime ritual? Did we make sure to read to them every night? If you ever want a lot of gratuitous advice, acknowledging that you've got kids with sleep problems is a great way to get it. But we didn't mind: we took it all and gave every suggestion a shot. Frankly, we would have tried just about anything.

When my eldest was eight, she got stung by a jellyfish at the beach in Kamakura where we were on holiday. At the emergency clinic, the doctor advised me that he would give her a powerful sedative. "Will you be able to carry her home?" he wanted to know first. "Because this injection will really knock her out." I looked at him with interest. "Really?" "Oh, yes," he assured me. I told him that if it worked, I'd definitely come back for job lots of the stuff, and he laughed politely. "Seriously," he said, "she'll konk out on you, so be prepared."

It was six thirty in the evening as I walked my brave, well-bandaged child back to our guest house. She yakked excitedly all the way home. I got her dressed for bed, and she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we told the others all about our adventure. We agreed that she could sleep with me just in case she keeled over from the injection. At three in the morning she was still going strong. Sighing, I put my pillow over my head and she continued to chatter for another hour. Finally, around four o'clock, she gave in to sleep.

I almost felt like going back to the doctor to get my money back, but really, it wasn't his fault. How was he to know he was coping with a bonafide medical anomaly?


Shelly said...

Hi Mary,

Merry pointed me your way, and I have been meaning to stop by for several weeks now. Well... now I am finally here.

No wonder Merry pointed me this way. I love your writing!

So, for the post. My two nephews spend the summer with me in Singapore every year. They too might be medical anomalies, but in the other direction. At ages 6 and 7 (two birthdays coming up, so nearly 7 and 8), they sleep 12 hours a night, if given the chance. It's not laziness, but genuinely the amount of sleep they seem to need to function at full force during the day.

Perhaps they are taking the extra hours of sleep that yours aren't using each night?

debra said...

As babies, my kids didn't read the book either. Sleep for hours? In my dreams--if i were able to sleep I could have had dreams, that is.
Then my youngest developed 2 speeds: fast and sleeping. Now at almost 16 she would be up late, vibrant and busy. Then she'd sleep a bit, and start all over again.
Funny how things work, eh?

A Paperback Writer said...

My family is sleep-divided.
My mother and my brother have a hard time sleeping, usually averaging 4 -5 hours on a good night. They both sleep lightly and wake easily.
My dad and I both require 9 -10 hours of sleep each night to stay in good health. Unfortunately for me, since I must arise at 4:30 each weekday morning, it's next to impossible to get that much on weeknights -- so I try for 7 and end up exhausted by Friday night. I love weekends because I can catch up on my sleep -- but doctors say this is not healthy, that we should sleep properly every night. Well, doctors aren't school teachers, now, are they?

Ello said...

That's my youngest! The girl does not want to sleep. She is so afraid that she is missing good stuff or something. She is not quite an anomaly but compared to my other two, she is definitely the one that makes me pull my hair out!

Carolie said...

Oh, Mary...I am now even more convinced we're somehow related (or at least I'm related to your daughters!) I simply did not sleep as a child, was 100% "on" until finally crashing in the wee hours, and waking up early to get going all over again. I've still got problems GETTING to sleep, even at the advanced age of 41, but now, once I get there, it takes a couple of brass bands and a bomb or two to wake me.

One thing that really struck me was your daughters response (or lack thereof) to the sedative. I'm like that as well...stuff that knocks out other people winds me right up. Allergy medicines and cold medicines bounce me off the ceiling, and one very popular cold remedy (an alcoholic green liquid) can keep me up for 48 hours, hallucinating. Anaesthesiologists are not big fans...shoulder surgery a year or so ago was interesting -- when I woke (early) on the way to the recovery room, the tired-looking doctor leaned over me and said "you really did NOT want the drape near your face, did you?" because I kept waking up, grumbling at him, and shoving the fabric away! They tell me they finally had to strap me down so I'd stay still. Oops.

Even aspirin makes me hyperactive. When I was a toddler, Mom gave me some of the orange-flavored chewable children's aspirin...and I was awake for 72 hours straight. She took me to the doctor and, wild-eyed, insisted he sedate either her or me, because otherwise, someone was going to DIE.

I don't know if it's physical, chemical, or, as ello put it, being afraid that if I go to sleep, I'll "miss good stuff or something."

That whole chattering nonstop thing is another "me too, me too!" Mom says that when I learned to talk, I began speaking in complete sentences...and have not shut up since that day.

You have my sympathies...and please give my best to your daughters, my comrades in wakefulness.

Brian said...

As far as I remember all my children slept well.
My wife can nap on a barbed wire fence (single strand )
Grandson Garth , he who at 4 months of age slept from Sydney to Airlie Beach, Queensland, in a specially organised cardboard box, could always go to sleep in a car. He now sleeps better still if attempting to read Wuthering Heights .
His brother Tim from his earliest age would sit happily awake for hours in the back seat, especially if plied with cheese sandwiches
At my age,I am an irregular night owl.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Good heavens, your children are full of beans! Obviously you're descended from an ancient line of humans that spent a long time in lion country!

Mary Witzl said...

Shelly -- Thank you for stopping by my blog, and for your kind words.

One of my eldest's friends in Japan was like your nephews. Apparently she could hardly wait for bedtime, had a favorite pillow, loved buying new pajamas or quilts or anything sleep related. I could weep just thinking about it.

When all is said and done, I think it is obvious that some people just need more sleep than others. I used to be one of those people who hardly never needed any myself. In fact I still am, but next to my kids I look like Rip Van Winkle.

Debra -- At least now I know I have company, and what a relief!

Somewhere along the line, you have an insomniac in your background. My mother was a champion sleeper, but my father was an insomniac like me -- and my kids -- and I just wonder which trait they're going to pass on? It is somewhat gratifying to think of them being kept awake by their children...

APW -- I am like your mother and brother, usually needing little more than six hours a night and requiring about an hour to fall asleep. My husband can fall asleep within seconds of lying down and he is a very heavy sleeper whereas you can wake me up by coming into the room and breathing. This has probably saved my life on at least two occasions, so it isn't always a bad thing, but when you've got a handful of insomniacs rattling around in a house, you've got trouble.

As for those doctors, just ask them how much sleep they got as interns. Believe me, some doctors get only an hour or two a night. I don't want guys like that anywhere near me with sharp implements.

Ello -- My sympathies! My parents claimed that I was like that -- worried that I would miss something and determined to ruin everyone else's night. I have no recollection of this, of course. The one thing I do remember is that after age five, I was not allowed out of my room at night. Somehow I haven't manage to enforce that rule in this household.

Carolie -- You're right: we are bound to share DNA, and certainly the no-sleep gene. Be warned: you are playing with dynamite when you decide to reproduce!

And how amazing it is to find someone who shares a hypersensitivity to pharmaceuticals! I hadn't thought there was anyone with my problem: I can't take cold remedies either, and whenever I'm given a painkiller, I cut it in half -- which always does the trick. I've come to twice during surgery too, and once needed a doctor and a nurse to physically hold me down. The next day I had bruises from the straps -- and the doctor and nurse had a few bruises of their own.

And finally, I started speaking in full sentences too, and very little can shut me up for long. We'll have fun if we ever meet: we'll probably stay up 72 hours talking! Fortunately, for us this would be no big deal.

Brian -- Your wife and my husband share this unique skill! When my husband and I first met, he told me he could fall asleep standing up. I did not believe him, of course. Then we started commuting to Tokyo together on packed trains, and damned if he couldn't! It was a sight to see: he would be wedged into a human crowd packed as tightly as corn kernels on the cob, snoring his head off. I was in awe.

Wuthering Heights would keep me up, but when my husband was studying computing, I used to have him try and explain the hexidecimal representation of color. That always worked a treat.

GB -- I am convinced of this: being a light sleeper has stood me in good stead on more than one occasion when I've had to wake up in seconds and sprint for safety.

A fellow insomniac once argued that people who need little sleep are more intelligent. I am sorry to say that this is rubbish. I've made a careful study of both types, and I've found quite a few insomniacs who are complete airheads -- and even more champion sleepers with very fine minds. Another hope dashed.

Brave Astronaut said...

Oh, Mary, you poor thing. I have been blessed with a child who actually will ask his parents to go to bed. He happily gets in his bed and goes to sleep. He truly is our child. There are some mornings when he will wake up early (too early for his parents, who really like to sleep) and we will bring him to bed with us. Then we will all sleep until 8:30.

I was home with my son when it was time to give up the second nap of the day. I think I cried more than he did. He is such a good sleeper, I can only hope that his soon to arrive sibling will follow in his tiny footsteps.

Otherwise we are all screwed.

Christy said...

I have one troubled sleeper and one good sleeper. They average out to be a typical kid.

My husband's family is rife with insomniacs, including my husband. I put the blame for our troubled sleeper squarely his shoulders, er, I mean his genes.

Kim Ayres said...

It never surprises a parent that sleep deprivation is used as a torture device

Carole said...

I was so spoiled with my first son. He slept probably 20 hours a day. From the beginning, he used sleep as a form of denial that anything bad was happening. I guess he would have preferred staying in the womb. He still sleeps like crazy, morning, noon or night and he is 33. Had I known this wasn't normal I probably would have had number two son. He sleeps about 2 hours a day. And has since he was born. He goes and goes and goes until he finally drops and sleeps for about ten hours straight and then he is good for another few weeks. And our last son, is a mixture of those two. He can sleep for hours, but can also go for several days on just a few hours sleep.

Just as well you didn't try and get your money back, the docs would have just looked at you and laughed. I tried!

Danette Haworth said...

Ha! I feel your pain. My son was born at 5:30 am and has continued to wake up at that hour since. He didn't sleep well, and I'd be up till all hours with him, then up for the day at 5:30.

You try to explain it to people, but, Mary, you're right--they don't believe you. They think you're exaggerating. But I think my purple eye-bags pretty much validate my story.

Eryl Shields said...

Thankfully my son is a sleeper like his mum. In the very early days he would wake for a feed at about two and then at six. Within weeks he dropped the two am feed and not long after the six am. By three months he was sleeping from ten pm til ten am. And he is still, at twenty two, much the same. He sleeps a full twelve hours each night.

However, I am not totally blessed: my husband sleeps for about five hours and those are restless. It's like sharing a bed with a gigantic flea, I have to hold on to the duvet tightly or else it ends up on the floor with his jumping about. Yet he can also sleep anywhere, in any postition. Even, rather alarmingly, behind the wheel of his car.

As for me I need very specific environmental factors in order to sleep at all. When I have these I can sleep for twelve or more hours at a time. Sadly, I almost never get them.

Mary Witzl said...

Brave Astronaut -- I am sick with envy! On two separate occasions, my eldest has fallen asleep in my arms. Once was when she was two, after a 14-hour flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles; she slept for about an hour during the flight, then was up for another 12, at which point she fell asleep for a whole six hours, right in my arms. The shock of it! Another time was when she was ill and I was cuddling her. I couldn't enjoy this: I kept having to check whether she was breathing.

Fingers crossed that your second will be the same, but you know who to turn to if s/he isn't...

Christy -- My husband has said the same to me on several occasions. He really could win gold medals in the Sleeping Olympics and can't understand how he ended up with kids like this. And no one in his family ever wet the bed either, or was incoordinated at sports. On the other hand, no one in his family can do anything artsy or is particularly humble, so I flatter myself that I have held up my end of the gene pool, so to speak.

Kim -- Before I became a mother, I I had no idea how badly sleep deprivation could mess someone up. I hate to think of all the smug and cavalier things I must have said to parents who were coping with this, back in those days Before Children.

Carole -- How interesting that your sons all had different sleeping patterns! Ours are really quite similar in their sleeplessness, but behavior is another matter.

We had one blissfully good child (the first) and then a feisty, touchy, cross little scrapper (the second). Had I had the second one first, there would never have been a second. Our first may have been born without an 'off' switch, but she was always placid and biddable as a toddler. Our second kid was the picture of perfection until she hit six months. Then she discovered that she could say no and all hell broke loose. How can two children, born to the same parents and in similar conditions, be so completely different in almost every particular? It really is fascinating!

Danette -- My first was born at 5:30 too, but try and get her up at 5:30 now! I'd need a hydraulic lift and a set of drums.

It never ceases to amaze me how different kids can be -- and how hard it can be to believe until you've seen it. A friend of mine once remarked that her little boy would eat anything. I didn't believe her. One day we happened to go to the same Indian restaurant and I watched as her 4-year-old plowed through a whole plateful of cabbage, vegetable curry, and spinach. I could have caught flies in my wide open mouth.

Eryl -- Your son sleeps TWELVE HOURS? For pity's sake, there is no justice in this world! If yours only slept nine, I could take the remaining three for my kids -- or hell, he could have eleven and I'd be thrilled with just the extra ONE! If I ever slept for twelve hours, by the way, I'd be sick for the rest of the day. I did this once ages ago, and it really messed me up.

I need a lot of special conditions too, before I can get to sleep. I have to be the right temperature; I have to be clean -- especially my teeth, hands, and feet. I have to be horizontal, and I need a relatively soft surface and something to put over my head. My husband could sleep in mud or on cement; he can be too warm or too hot, and he could fall asleep with all the dirt of the world on him. He can also sleep standing up and leaning against a brick wall. I know, because I've seen him do this.

My husband claims that I wriggle a lot in bed, but this is nonsense. I'm a careful, quiet sleeper and never snore, talk in my sleep, or fidget. And I am the Queen of Romania.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, that sounds like my son and the multitude of antihistamines his doctors gave him when we were still struggling with his eczema. If anything, they pepped him up instead of tired him.

Chocolatesa said...

"My husband can fall asleep within seconds of lying down and he is a very heavy sleeper whereas you can wake me up by coming into the room and breathing. This has probably saved my life on at least two occasions, so it isn't always a bad thing, but when you've got a handful of insomniacs rattling around in a house, you've got trouble."

Me and my husband are the same!! Except in my case I need minimum 9 hours of sleep to function properly. Most of the time I'm still an airhead though! Lol. I never seem to manage to get enough sleep, I'm about to start going to doctors to get them to refer me to a sleep clinic to see if I have sleep apnea! (I don't believe it when they say only overweight people get it.)

In my case the insomniac is my brother-in-law who is currently living with us for a few weeks.

" I've come to twice during surgery too, and once needed a doctor and a nurse to physically hold me down."

*gasp!* That must have been horrible... did you feel them fiddling around in side you, pain and all!?!? I desperately hope I'm not like that if ever I have to go through surgery, but I think I'll be ok considering I don't have that hypersensitivity to medications some others do. Although once the dentist had to give me three injections of anasthetic before I couldn't feel anything, which was unusual apparently. So I'm not sure. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Chocolatesa said...

Oh, I just came across an interesting article about new research they've done on people with sleeping problems, more medical anomalies, very interesting. See my latest entry for the link.