Monday, August 13, 2012

Night miseries

It's ten p.m.  John and I have just laid our heads on our pillows for a good night's sleep.  A few scattered dreams are beginning to flit across the surface of my consciousness.  And then I hear the sound.

hic hic hic hic

It's several rapid, gasping, hiccupy inhalations ... the sound a toddler makes when they're about to cry, or recovering from crying.  I freeze and hope I imagined it.

hic hic hic hic

John's head rises off the pillow.  "Is that Marko?"

"Yes.  I'm waiting to see if that's all."

Sometimes it is.  But this time it isn't.  A loud wail breaks the silence.  I start to throw the blankets off, but the sound stops.  I wait to see if it's going to start up again, but it doesn't for a whole minute.  Cautiously I start to lie back down.

The second my head touches the pillow it starts again.  A long, agonized cry.  I leap out of bed and down the hall.  As my hand touches the doorknob it stops.  I wait and listen.  There's no sound of movement, no feet hitting the floor.  Carefully, making no sound, I remove my hand from the knob.  Like an explosion the sound bursts forth again.


I explode into the room, expecting to see my son lying on the ground, standing by the door, anything.  But this time he is still in bed.

"Here I am, sweetie," I say.  "Mama's here."

The screaming redoubles.  WHAAAAAA EEEEEEE AAAAAAAAA!!  He flings himself away from me on the bed, squirming into the wall to get as far from me as possible.

"Okay, little guy, if you don't want me, I'm going to go."

Panic ensues.  Marko lunges toward me, shrieking hysterically.  EEEEEE EEEEE EEEEEE hic hic hic AAAAAAAAA!!

Who knows how this will end.  Sometimes we've been able to cut the whole thing short with a sippy cup of water and a touch of a button on his CD player.  Other times we take him out into the living room to get him all the way awake, and then start his bedtime routine over completely.  Sometimes, like last night, nothing works.  The screaming goes on for hours.

Sometimes he is relatively conscious, but upset:

I walk in the room.  "Noooo!  Want Mama!"

"Marko, it's me -- Mama's here!"

"Noooo!  Want Daddy!"

Sometimes he seems confused:

"Don't want that spider to be on youuuuuu!"

"Don't want him to be in here!"  "Who?"  "WHAAAAAAA!"

Sometimes he is completely hysterical and can't speak:

"Does something hurt?"  WHAAAAAAAAA!  "Are you thirsty?"   EEEEEEAAAAAAAH!  "Are you hungry?"  hic hic hic AAAAAAAAA!

Sometimes he's wide awake and cheerful:

"Want to be out in the living room.  Want to play.  Want a story."  If we say no, it's back to the screaming.  If we say yes, he will get as far as the living room before collapsing into sobs again.  If we try something soothing, like rocking or singing, he is pretty content and will even begin to drift off ... but a moment after his eyes close, his limbs start to jerk and twitch and he starts screaming again.

When Marko comes all the way awake and is able to communicate with us, but starts to scream whenever he begins to drift off, I call it a nightmare.  When he's completely incomprehensible and doesn't seem even aware of who we are, I call it a night terror.  But there isn't really any hard distinction; it's more of a continuum.

We've tried a number of things.  I'd come close to saying we've tried everything, but obviously a few of the ideas that come to mind at two a.m. aren't going to get tried: "I wonder if he would stay in his bed if I spanked him?  Perhaps if I cover his mouth he will stop screaming.  Doesn't vodka induce sleepiness?" 

Things we've tried:

*rushing in the instant he makes a peep in the hopes of resettling him before he works himself up -- fail.  That just works him up to get more upset.

*waiting from a few minutes to half an hour to see if he resettles on his own -- sometimes works.  But if he hasn't settled in five minutes, experience suggests he isn't going to.  Sometimes that's because he's mysteriously lying on the floor, even some distance from the bed.

*rocking him to sleep again -- sometimes works, but as he starts to shut his eyes and I start to relax, his legs and arms start twitching and thrashing and he wakes himself up screaming again.  Repeat forever.  Okay, sometimes he goes all the way to sleep, but usually after an hour or more.  Any pause in rocking, adjusting of arms, scratching nose, etc., starts the screaming up again and we're back to square one.  Or sometimes he will really go to sleep, but wake up if we try to lay him in bed.

*giving him a snack, drink, turning on his music, etc. and then leaving -- occasionally works if he's  not too upset.

*just getting him up and letting him sit on our lap until he feels tired again -- sometimes works, but takes an hour or longer.

*lying down with him -- probably the most effective, but only I can do it (the toddler bed is cramped for me and impossible for John) and of course if Michael wakes up I have to interrupt the whole thing to go nurse him.  And sometimes Marko is too upset for this anyway and doesn't want me to lie with him.  But when he'll accept it, it usually does calm him, and though he does do the startling-awake thing, an hour or so of this usually works.  Sometimes two hours.

*sitting on the bed, telling him I will stay as long as he is quiet, but if he screams I will leave.  If he tries to get out of bed, I put him back in, but otherwise I don't interact.  This occasionally works.  More often it's just used as a reprieve from other methods, because he is relatively quiet.  But again, as soon as he starts to drift off he starts to scream again.

*changing his diaper -- we went through a phase where he wanted a change at night, but that doesn't seem to be what it is this time.  He's in plastics at night so he doesn't feel wet or uncomfortable.

*putting him in bed, turning on his music, and leaving the room.  We have a child lock on his door so he can't get out.  But this hardly ever works.  If he's in just the right state of tiredness it might.  Otherwise he just works himself up, gets out of bed, and bangs on the door shrieking for approximately all night.

*letting him into our bed .... I have only tried this when John's gone, because we have a queen-sized bed with three people in it already.  It did work, that is to say after his usual cycle of twitching and waking himself up he did eventually fall into a deeper sleep.  But it's really no better than in his bed, except that I can have Michael with me at the same time.  Only I've learned that this is kind of a downside -- at my grandma's, I had them both, but every time Michael made a peep, Marko would wake up and start shrieking.

*giving him Benadryl.  This worked like a charm.  He would still startle and try to flail around, but he was clearly too zonked to put any spirit into it, and after about ten minutes he fell into a deep sleep.  The downside is, the label says NOT to use it as a sleep aid, and I don't think it's a good idea to be using it on a regular basis.  Melatonin would probably be better but A) I don't know where you get something like that, in a kid-safe dose, and B) I have been reading up and am not really sure whether or not it's safe, or whether anyone knows.  On the other hand, sleep deprivation is hardly healthy either.

One thing I want to do, which I think would help, is to get Marko falling asleep on his own.  He actually did that for awhile.  But then he stopped and went back to getting out of bed, hanging on the doorknob, and asking to come out.  So now he's back to having John put him to bed, which is a routine that's varied a bit over time but which always involves being put in bed asleep.  He doesn't have any trouble falling asleep in the evening, though, so long as he hasn't napped, so perhaps we could work toward having him go to sleep on his own.  Not completely sure how.  He doesn't mind being put down so long as he's not almost asleep (which makes him scream), but he doesn't go to sleep either.  He gets out of bed and plays, or lies in bed and kicks the wall and sings.  Ever since he was a baby I've laughed at people who told me to let him cry himself to sleep.  He never cried about being in his crib.  He just wouldn't sleep either.

I do not feel it's really a behavior issue though.  We've had whole spans of time when he successfully slept through the night.  And it's not like he wants anything at night.  He just screams.  I think something might hurt, but who knows what because he can't tell us.  Either that or he just is having some kind of nightmare or night terror.  He has also been known to sleepwalk.  (His room is as childproof as I could make it!)  Sleep problems run in the family.  Other than me, none of my siblings were good sleepers.  They wake up a lot, have trouble falling asleep, and just need less than other people.  Some scream at night without waking; some scream at night with waking, some wet the bed.  John's mother tells me he had sleep issues too.

Sometimes I don't like getting a lot of advice because I have TRIED everything people suggest.  But heck, let's put it all out there.  Give me all your sleep tips.  Or sympathy.  Mostly sympathy.  And tell me your child TOTALLY did this but suddenly stopped at 28 months and seven days.  That is what I want to hear.


kori said...

My oldest child TOTALLY did this but suddenly stopped at (I almost don't want to tell you....) age five. Sorry :-(. You have much much sympathy from me. My oldest, Jack, still has nightmares and screams in his sleep but no longer wakes up with night terrors. He doesn't seem to remember his dreams either, so that is a plus. At least it doesn't affect his daytime (he is seven now).

Sarah Faith said...

five will get you ten it's a food allergy. Try elimination diet of the common culprits for 3 weeks and note any improvement.

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