How I got my non-sleeping kid to sleep

If you’ve come looking for a miracle cure or solution for your kid that doesn’t sleep, well, I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. But what I can tell you is that I feel your pain, I can give you a virtual back rub, and I can tell you that you are most definitely not alone. I know that doesn’t help does it? But there’s two messages I want to give you before you click away:

1. You are doing or did nothing wrong

It’s true. I know, because I KNOW, after almost 8 years of having a kid that didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t sleep that you must think it’s YOU that has done something wrong to make them this way, well I am here to tell you this right now: YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. Unless of course, you keep pinching them at night to keep them awake which I find highly unlikely. But I spent hours, days, weeks, YEARS convinced that I must have contributed in some way to bad behaviours and patterns for my non sleeping daughter. I beat myself up about it, I compared and studied other people’s kids sleeping patterns, read all the things you can read, tried ALL the things you should try and when they didn’t work, I blamed myself of course!

Your non sleeping child has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. And not in a bad way! It’s just how they are. It could be medical or emotional (sleep apnoea, night terrors, nightmares, separation anxiety, manipulation whatever it is)…it’s them. It’s just them and what they need, and you have done nothing to cause it (unless you are indeed a pincher).

2. The only thing that will fix your non sleeping sleeper, is time

Well, that’s the only thing that fixed it for us. Time. Bullshit I know, but time.

Let’s rewind a little in any case and give you a little background to our non sleeping middle child, Harper. This post from just over 2 years ago gives a little bit of an update into our continued issues with her and sleep. Plus it links back to a whole heap more. I can’t pin point when or why exactly she stopped sleeping, perhaps it was just like *that* the way a kid that did something forever just stops for no  apparent reason and so you frantically try and help them and then before you know it, it’s 4 years later and you are still patting them on the back 23,984 times every night before they go to sleep. Or is that just me? I do know she had sleep apnoea, and then had her adenoids and tonsils taken out. I know that she had MAJOR separation anxiety and has always suffered from a little anxiety and worries. I know that she is very smart, and has a VERY over active imagination. I also know that she is stubborn and determined and will do whatever it takes it get what she wants. It’s actually terrifying.

We’ve had shared beds, back into her own bed, sleep training and crying it out oh, maybe 45,000 times. I get tough, do the hard yards and then she gets sick with asthma (like really sick) and I need to sleep with her and we are back to square one again. 45,001, here we go again! I also know that we have tried ALL the things. ALL THE THINGS. Name me a thing. Go on! Crying it out? Tick! Locking the door? Tick! Mattress on the floor in our room? 2 years! 2 YEARS. Walking her back to bed without engaging? 38,534 times! Kinesiologist/chiro/naturopath? Tick! Tick! TICK. Special clothes to help them feel safe and comfortable? Night lights? Music? Meditations? Yes to all of the above. I mean it when I say, we have tried all the things.

I have an eye twitch to prove it.

The one thing I worked out was that Harper would be happy if we all lived in one bedroom together, in a tent and she would be happy. She needed someone. And that’s OK. Except when it wasn’t longer OK.

Last year, around September or October I hit rock bottom with her sleep. Like I literally thought I was losing my mind. How the FUCK could this shit STILL be happening when she was 7 years old? HOW? Rob and I would fight, like really fight with each other, with her, nighttimes were a battle field and everyone was losing, every night. One night, at this rock bottom, Daisy had to peel me up from the kitchen floor sobbing, telling me it was OK. I was done. Broken. Done.

I called my GP the next day to say I was losing my mind. Like, I am NOT in a good way. And they said they could fit in me for an appointment the next week. RIGHT?!!! I was in shock that no one would help us and so angry about EVERYTHING that I eventually called back when my sister convinced me this was not OK and sobbed again, and got an earlier appointment.

We made a plan to seek professional help about sleep. To, you know, get to the bottom of it all because CLEARLY there were issues right? Except after many family sessions with us all together, including the professional who was stumped, we realised that trying to “fix” this problem was actually causing more of a problem.

Huh.

I let go of a whole lot of shit about sleep. Years of angst and stress, comparing, beating myself up, getting SO ANGRY ALL THE TIME ABOUT SLEEP, I let it go. I had honest conversations with Harps about expectations and being part of a team and stepping up and making her feel like whatever it was she wanted (within reason) of course she could have.

And months later?

Well it’s about 8 months later post rock bottom. Every night Harper goes to sleep in her bed, she wakes up (of course she does), wakes me up, and I walk her back in, tuck her in, but she goes back to her bed, gets back to sleep and stays asleep.

I don’t know what the turning point was.
What the magic thing that happened was.
I can only think it was time.
And maybe a little healing for me.

Maybe it was her seeing what an effect it was having on us all? Maybe she felt strong enough or confident enough to do it? Maybe it was her new bedroom, her bunk bed? Maybe it was because the wind was blowing exactly in the right direction with the stars aligned just so for the first time in almost 8 years…who knows?! But somehow now, it’s working. It’s been consistently working for longer than it ever has before.

And that’s something.

And the point of all this? Well, just to let you know that it’s true, when you have a kid that doesn’t sleep, it sucks. It’s BULLSHIT. Everything seems worse than what it is. Sleep deprivation sucks the good out of everything. It makes you lose your compass and it makes me lose my sense of humour, and when I don’t have that, I am no good to anyone.

A kid that doesn’t sleep affects the whole family. There’s a juggling act of making sure you are loving and caring and tough at the same time. There’s other kids to manage, to make sure they don’t get woken up and exhausted by it all too. It’s tough on your mental health, it’s tough on your relationship with your partner. It’s shrouded in guilt and shame and blame. It’s all consuming and it’s BULLSHIT.

But you are never alone. Never.

My advice is take a deep breath and let some of that stuff go.
The books, the forums, the online articles, the advice from well meaning friends and family.
Trust your instinct and the needs of YOU and the non sleeping child.
Ask for help.
Get professional help if you are really losing your marbles.
Drop the expectations.
Do whatever it takes to get rest.
It won’t be forever.
And you’ve done nothing wrong.

Simple right?!

And of course now I am dealing with a toddler who will one day decide that she no longer likes sleep, and then there’s a tween who can’t get enough sleep. This won’t be forever. You thought they would be breastfeeding, or not toilet trained or this or that and look at them now.

They got it. They will get it.

Now go make a cuppa while I give you a virtual back rub.
You’re doing a great job, under shit circumstances.
You really are.

Are you in some kind of sleep hell at the moment?
Or have you managed to get through your own sleeping issues and come out the other side?
Want to talk about it?
Or not! I was most definitely in the NOT category.

Comments

  1. Yep. Sleep issues over here. Some stretches (months?) are amazing and then other stretches (months – feel like decades) are shit. Just shit. At the moment my *almost* three year old will sleep through the night (FINALLY!) … but 1 hour of patting and sitting with her every. single. night. to get her to sleep. We’re about to have baby number two – how will I have time to pat her for an hour every night? I don’t know … she only wants me. Dad is for fun and books and cuddles but not bedtime apparently (send me all the wine … you know, in 5 weeks when I’m actually allowed to drink again). I get it though. At the moment she wants to cuddle me all night, and I get that … I don’t want to do it, but I understand. Then last night the penny dropped for her that mum, dad, the dog and the new baby will sleep in one room but she’ll be in a room on her own … and I get that that doesn’t sound fair. The 6 or 12 months before her and the baby will share a room is nothing in the scheme of things but for her it’s an eternity. So much of it is just letting go of expectations isn’t it … although when I was sobbing on the back deck when she’d lost the plot last night and I gave up and sent her dad in (who she let pat her until she fell asleep WINNING) I didn’t have such a calm attitude about it.

    • Oh Kathryn, I feel it lady, I feel it. I think Maggie’s arrival did more to Harper than I ever gave her credit for. Good luck xxx

  2. Oh my lord. THANK YOU!!
    My 3rd, i swear was sent to keep me awake…and then results in me being a b*tch to everyone.
    She is 1 in three weeks, we have NOT slept through once…not even close.
    But in the last week, she has woken at midnight and 5 when we start our day…ill take that, and cope.

    Ive done the same things with her as the older two..but nothing worked unless i fed her to sleep and she remember hang on I was feeding as i drifted…now where is she again…every 2-3 hrs for 11 months!!!
    Really threw me into the deep end of surviving with three!!
    Wont eat solids – cycle continues feeding all night….survival of who will battle it out the longest…she usually wins cause hey I have to take two kids to school, soccer, swimming, footy, dance….
    It just her…and I think it will be for awhile…

    One day I will miss hugging her whilst everyone sleeps..but for now I want to enjoy more time with my bed.

    • Oh Emma! I’m cringing reading this because our 3rd has been very similar. And we are now at 22months and I promise you it is so much better. He found it terribly hard to stop BFing but once we did, almost cold turkey ?, he did grow up a little and started sleeping in his cot for longer through the night. He still wakes at 5am but hey, at least he wasn’t sleeping on me like a cat on my shoulder all night or trying to get ‘milky’. Lol. Hang in there!! ☕??

    • Exactly the same with my third, who just turned 1 this month…every 2 hours still looking for the boob! Arghh! And two bigger ones at school, with the middle one still traipsing in every night to me too because she needs a warm body to cuddle up to (she’s nearly 7 and that’s been going on since the baby days). It really does your head in, yet you just have to keep going like you say, because the older ones still need to be delivered to all their things…and one day they’ll be teenagers and it won’t be happening anymore. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone! And thank you Beth for your fabulous life affirming blog!

    • Feel your pain Emma, good luck and be kind to yourself while you are going through this all. It’s tough! x

  3. You’ve just described my second daughter who is 7. This is our reality ….
    When she was born she was awake and alert ALL the time . I remember a midwife in the hospital telling another midwife ‘don’t wake that baby up’.
    We’ve tried everything and the more we try , the worse we make it . I’ve given up now . Every night she goes to sleep in her own bed ( we have to stay with her until she falls asleep ). Every morning she is in our bed , draped all over me . I don’t even wake up anymore I’m so exhausted. I figure she’ll just grow out of it . Her only explanation is that she is afraid to be alone …

  4. Holy Moley! My youngest is 4 and half, she doesn’t sleep. Hasn’t really slept since she was born. I really thought by now we’d be all be sleeping all night. My older two were bad sleepers, but I didn’t know bad till I met this little minx. She sounds very similar in temperament to your Harper. But in my 11th year of parenting, I just didn’t expect to still be sleep deprived! She goes to school next year, I’ve resorted to telling her that you’re not allowed to start prep unless the Principal knows you are sleeping all night. I feel bad for lying, but you know, desperation! I know that one day she’ll get the hang of it… hoping anyway.

  5. My four grown up friends are all terrible not sleep through the night, wake up at anything insomniacs.

    Me and my family can all fall asleep within 2 minutes of laying our heads down and can sleep through the night – lucky us.

    So my gut feeling us it is all genetic. I have a theory that my ancestors must have been the rich cave people who could sleep soundly by the fire through the night. My friends ancestors must have to sleep by the cave door, always on guard for enemies sneaking up, sabre toothed tigers etc.

  6. Michelle says

    My now 7 year old daughter never slept. As a baby she used to sleep for 40 minutes at a time (after me spending 40 minutes rocking her off to sleep), never slept in the car, wouldn’t let anyone but me put her to bed. She was our second child, our first one slept like a dream and I used to wonder what the hell we had done wrong. But just like in your house, the only thing that fixed it was time. She is a bull-headed Taurean like her mother and I learnt that she will do things when she is good and ready. She still roams around the house at night – some nights she ends up in our bed, some mornings I can hear her in with our dog in his bed but I have given up fighting it because no one was winning. And I’m sure there will come a day when I will wish she was still the little girl who would magically appear in our bed in the middle of the night. Thanks for sharing, as always you make us feel like we are not all going completely insane!!!

  7. pollyemj says

    Beth! How do you know? How is it that this post comes my way when we are in the midst of yet another round of toddler sleep torture? So much of what you’ve always written about Harper’s sleep has rung true to me. Our three year old has never been a great sleeper, never ever. And any progress we’ve ever made is then nixed with illness or a holiday or a change in the routine and it’s back to square one we go. It’s so completely and utterly exhausting – both the lack of sleep and the inevitability of the cycle rolling on. I’ve been there at rock bottom, in the middle of the night, sobbing tears of frustration having just been so so very angry. I’ve had the breakdown. The GP and the psychologist helped so very much. And yet the lack of sleep continues. Such is life I suppose. But you’re so right about having to let go of some expectations and the overwhelming feeling that it is all about me doing something wrong. She’s just not like other kids who just go to sleep and stay in their beds and I need to stop comparing her to those kids. Yikes! Big reply. But thank you for talking about this issue. It’s really good to know we’re not the only ones. Really really. Thank you!

  8. Elise Schaefer says

    Your going to hate my imput. My children all now grown with children of their own – who have all had sleep issues to varying degrees. ?
    Well my 3 kids born within 4 years, we’re amazing sleepers. Slept through from 4, 2, and 6 months! One hiccup when we moved house and our then baby woke up once every night for a year. I just tucked her in and she went back to sleep. IT WAS THEM! I never did a thing I was 23 when our first was born and just thought babies slept. And mine did! I used to have friends say I coped well with 3 little kids, probably because they liked their beds. ?

  9. Was wondering how Harper was going with her sleep, great update!

    We have a 14 month old who doesn’t know how to sleep through the night, and baby number 2 is due in 2 months time. We’ve done Tresillian (kinda helped), rocking to sleep, co sleeping, no contact… same results for all. I think like Harper, she’s smart and alert and just cannot switch off.

    Recently I let go and decided that sleep is just not going to be a part of my life for a few years and that’s OK. Eventually they will sleep. Eventually they will even sleep IN and I’ll be the one waking them! GLORIOUS DAY!

  10. Your ” I’ll give you a little back rub ” made me cry a little. Because I need the back rub.
    I’ve told you before, my youngest 2 are not good sleepers, never have been & I am now over 4 years into broken sleep every. damn. night.
    I’ve patted, I’ve rocked, I’ve breastfed one baby on the floor while patting a non-sleeping baby in a cot, I’ve co-slept, I’ve screamed, I’ve cried, I’ve lost my mind & then I’ve given in. For months now I lie down with Blake every night to get him to sleep & then each night Sadie makes her way into our bed around 1.32am. Blake still often wakes up needing the loo or a cuddle or SOMETHING! A few weeks back Sadie got her big girl bed. Hooray! The last of the baby paraphernalia is gone! But what happens now is they fight/scream/cry about who I lie down with ( they share a room ) & then during the night both wake up needing the toilet or comfort or wanting me in their bed. Again. Some night both end up in our bed. It’s not uncommon for my Fitbit to tell me I’ve walked over 600 steps during the night. WHAT THE FUCK!
    I try so hard to be zen about it because I’ve got teenagers who sleep like it’s an Olympic sport & they are gunning for gold ( they’ve both always been great sleepers though ) so I know I won’t be doing this forever but I truly believe the lack of sleep has contributed to me feeling anxious & semi depressed over the last few years. ITS HAAAAAAAARD!! ( insert a million crying emojis here )
    So thank you Beth. Thank you for the back rub & sharing the story over the years. X

    • pollyemj says

      Sending hugs Rhiannon!

    • Oh darling girl, you have done the HARD yards. I think about you often and hope that you are OK. I won’t say this too will pass because I fucking HATE that saying so much. Good luck, that’s all. Good bloody luck x

  11. Love this post. I am so relaxed about the sleep thing at the moment. It used to drive me bonkers. I now give exactly zero fucks if my three year old spends the entire night in our bed because there is nothing I can do about it!

  12. Hi, I’m 9 years into this battle and can relate to every single thing you’ve said Beth! Kinesiology, aptmts, mattress on the floor for 5 intermittent years now…. it goes on and on damaging the psyche, the household and the sex life!!
    It’s hard at all ages, but at these ages a pat and a breastfeed just aren’t an option anymore…
    Thank you Beth, so perfectly written as usual that I sit here with a tear in my eye between exclaims of Yes! That’s so us!!!
    Take care and enjoy all your bed has to offer…;)

  13. *waves hand* a 9yo over thinking, too clever slightly anxious but very confident outwardly girl here. So here is our timeline (and sorry, my little mental purge):
    She is #2 of 4 – all the rest sleep (albeit the 5yo who decides she’s too lazy to pull her doona up with the 3am chills periodically and appears in our bed snuggling icicle toes into us).
    As a baby – shocker! Cried till midnight every night, slept till 4am, woke for a feed, slept till 8 … awake the rest of the day until midnight …
    Then she decided to sleep at about about 18 months and didn’t I crack the literal and metaphorical champagne!
    Fast forward 5/6 years and who flipping knows what’s going on… About a year ago we shifted her into her own room bc she was sharing with a 3yo and she had no ‘place of her own’ in the house so we decided that we should focus on helping her find her place when there was a particularly bad run of sleeping and unhappiness going on for months. Worked a treat and she adored her own space until about 4 months ago when we went back to the staying awake until 11pm.
    She is exhausted but lies in that bed and thinks and sings and replays the days activities in her head, and role plays hours long dramas with her 4700 toys in the bed that if she’s missing one of, the world stops spinning, and when she tells us there’s a problem we have to talk to her for hours to try and get to the root of the problem which might be tiny but upsets her and we go through the gamut of talking nicely and cajoling and getting terse and upset and begging and pleading and talking calming and crying together and just leaving her alone and lying with her and we have done the works too…Music, reading, meditation, talking, patting, rubbing, hot water bottles, more toys, less toys, night lights… our latest was giving her a notebook to write all her worries into which we promise not to read (then promptly do whenever we have a particularly shocking string of nights…it does yield some answers!) for her to get the thoughts / worries keeping her awake out of her head
    We are at a loss and give a cheer when she’s asleep before 9pm! But I’m just not ready to do what my friends suggest – just toddle off to the Dr and get her some Melatin (sic) to make her drowsy … I just feel there must be a reason (her reason) for not sleeping…
    And I know it’s not me, it’s her, but I can’t find her switch to turn off that beautiful big brain of hers off to let it process all the stuff… and as a mother I so desperately want to to help her find the solution so she can help herself go to sleep.
    So I’m taking a leaf from this Beth and giving it time (and wine) and will try not to stress about it bc maybe my stress of her not sleeping is making her not sleep – who knows – but it’s worth a shot…

    • Oh Liz, sounds so familiar. Every night I know that Harper goes through the day and HAS to have things just so before she sleeps. The melatonin may work (didn’t for us) but a couple of sessions with a child psychologist did. May be good just to have time to TALK, you know? Good luck! x

  14. at long last beth! … well done harper!!!
    OMG it’s the pits when they don’t sleep well!
    can only imagine the stress and tension of a repeated pattern! … disturbing for all!
    harper is obviously a very sensitive child!
    probably she felt more grown up when she was going to be an older sister!
    hope mags is behaving in that area!!!
    mother’s need medals!
    much love m:)X

  15. I hear you ? My second child turns 7 in two days time and from birth has been an individual. She came to me last year to have a chat saying that she had decided that she could probably sleep in her own bed all of the night now that she’s six. Out loud my response was positive and reassuring however my internal dialogue was going nuts with acronyms. I’ve always rationalised things such as non-sleeping and fussy eating as the ‘when you’re 25’ category. When our children are 25 they won’t want to sleep with us, as well as, when they are 25 their palettes will be more refined and if not they’ll go hungry of their own accord. I’ve always looked to find my morning person happy place – for me it’s L’occitane products and a great cup of tea, but each to their own ?

  16. Oh lovely, this post is going to speak to so many parents who are dealing with these issues. We have also experienced night tremors and severe crying at night. All three of our girls will get up in the night and wake us, and we take them back to bed. It’s exhausting, but nowhere near as exhausting as what you have gone through. So glad all is better at the moment. You always put a great perspective on a tough season. xx

  17. I’m a tad embarrassed to put this in the open, but it may help someone…my 6 year old was taking two hours of battling to get to bed every night for months, like he’d suddenly appear beside me (argh) with a sullen “I’m bored. Sleep is boring” every ten minutes. FOR MONTHS. In what I thought was unrelated, he mentioned a wriggler in the toilet after no. 2 one day, so our family had our first worming choc and the VERY NEXT NIGHT, everyone slept like a log. And everyone was so much happier. I had no idea the family had little tiny friends on board. Possibly for many many months judging by the amazing change of behavior. It explained a few things like constant grumps and nappy rashes. We had no typical ‘itchy bum’ complaints at all. Ok, I’m going to go hide under my rock again like a leper. (my very clean rock as was doing 6 loads of washing a day for two weeks and driving myself insane with the cleaning and constant thoughts of cross contamination everywhere.) ugh.
    well done to Harper (and you all) I’m sure it’s only going to get better from now on x

  18. Yours in non sleeping solidarity (me not my kid). xxxx

  19. Wow Beth! I think YOU are the one that needs the virtual pat on the back!! Honestly, well done. I’m so thrilled to hear that Harper has turned a corner.
    Our 22 month old had major sleep regression at 8months old and from then until 1 month ago was waking up once or twice a night and screeeeeeeeaaaamed until he slept in our bed. OMG. Not cool. But finally he sleeps all night however, does think that 5am is UP time. Mum up. Wake up. Come with me. Up. Up. Up. X 4000 times.
    Every one hang in there!!!! Time will help! (And coffee!)
    X

  20. Sounds eerily similar to our household, I call it second child syndrome. Our charmer is now 9 and a half, and it’s only in the last 12 months that he finally sleeps in his own bed. Our only issue now is having a reasonable bedtime. If someone is still up, so is he.

  21. Still catching up on sleep, 4 kids 23 down to 14, no1 and 3 were awful sleepers, still are (just the way they are, very active minds, I think). By the time no3 kept waking me to tell me He couldn’t sleep, I was so exhausted I couldn’t really wake up to do anything about it.Eventually learnt to deal by himself(over 10years old by then, though?)Keep going Beth!

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