Thank god for my Korean eye cream or my under eye circles would make me look like a really skinny panda! Sleep, if I can call it that, is something that I have not had since kiddo #2 was born. Of course, parents don’t get much sleep with a newborn, but once #2 hit the toddler years something was definitely not normal. In fact, it was our sleeping habits that was a red flag that he may be on the spectrum.
Number two, was a fussy sleeper who refused to sleep in his toddler bed. Every night he wanted to be next to me. And not just next to me, he wanted me to lay facing him every night. At first, I was so touched that I was the only who could comfort him and put him to sleep but it got really bad. He would not let me lay down in no other position but on my side facing him. Face to face (it is such a cute face, but do you really want someone breathing on you all night?) If I turned my head away, he would grab my hair and turn it towards him. It got so bad that my hairline started to thin where he grabbed my hair each night. Even after he fell asleep, it was impossible to take him back to his bed. He would either wake up right away or if I was successful, he would just return to my bed a short time later.
Over the next few years, his sleeping habits remained the same. I thought by giving him my childhood blankie would help since it had mommy’s scent. It didn’t. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine of bath time and book reading, didn’t work either.
After the divorce, I tried different approaches. I gave him a huge Olaf plushie that was bigger than me to cuddle in bed with. Well, there was #2, Olaf, and mommy in the bed. #2 would tuck us all in. Then I tried the cry it out approach. I would just take him back to his bed every time he got up. It was hard. “Sleep with mommy?” When I said no, he would throw a tantrum. Throwing himself on the floor, hitting the wall, and crying did not make us well-liked in our apartment complex. This approach would start to work but impossible to maintain because when he returned from the other parent’s home, I would have to start over. And I couldn’t have a screaming come from my apartment each night.
#2 is now nine and still wants to sleep with his mommy. I tried more approaches like a weighted blanket and melatonin. He doesn’t care much for the weighted blanket. Melatonin only makes him sleepy but doesn’t keep him asleep in his bed all night. I still have to lay next to him until he falls asleep and even then he is a light sleeper. If I make any movement, he immediately wakes up and makes sure I am tucked in next to him. If I do leave his side and get in my own bed, sure enough he will come into my bed with his pillow and blanket. If I get up to go the bathroom at night, most times he will get up, too.
Recently, I woke up at 3 am and I could feel his hand on the top of my head. I moved so slightly that his hand just hovered over my head. He immediately poked his head up to make sure I was next to him. After some tossing and getting comfortable, I could feel his foot against my leg. I would move my leg just a bit so his foot wasn’t touching me. His foot would move so it could touch my leg. I did it again and he just kept on moving his foot over to find my leg.
My son needs either pressure input or physical touch. It has to be some sort of physical attachment because the Olaf and weighted blankets never worked. He used to want all the blankets and his plushies in bed with him, but he’s growing out of that. Once I told him to go to his bed and sleep alone like a big boy, he went to sleep next to his little sister.
The approach I have found to be most successful is my version of sleep training with melatonin. My sleep training is having him sleep in his own bed and I would lay next to him until he fell asleep. The next night, I would sit in his bed until he fell asleep. Then the following night, I would sit next to the bed. Gradually removing myself helps get him accustomed to falling asleep in his own bed. Melatonin helps make him sleepy and falls asleep faster, but melatonin can only be taken for a short amount of time. This approach was the most successful. He would still wake up at night and come look for me, but the amount of time he spent alone in his bed would increase as well. I could at least get a few hours of sleep alone in my bed. This approach was also best to minimize the tantrums and crying. But again, this would all fall apart once #2 returned from the other parent’s house.
It’s still better than where we were a few months ago. He is no longer against sleeping in his own bed. I can tell him to go to bed and he will grab his pillow and blanket from the sofa and then grab me, “C’mon mom” and head to his bed. I can tell him to lay down and shut his eyes. Also, if I have to get up to grab something, or go bathroom, or turn off a light, he is more willing to go back to his bed if he gets up with me or actually waits patiently in his bed for me to return.
It’s getting better but the years of inconsistent sleeping habits has left us to be super light sleepers. I wake up every night when #2 isn’t there.