We here at Casa WestEnders may debate about some things (the culinary merits of tofu, for example), and outright disagree on certain others (like how much SportsCenter one should be allowed to view), in the way all families occasionally do. But one thing we find ourselves completely in sync about is: how much we appreciate sleep. Husband enjoys having a bit of a lie-in on weekends. (I just love saying that, makes us sound so much more British than we are...which is actually..."not at all"...) I myself am a huge proponent of the very civilized "afternoon nap". (And by civilized I refer to my demeanor when I wake up, contrasted with the weary-4-p.m.-grouchy-Mom.) Both boys are so active during the day that when they fall into their beds and pull up the covers, they generally drop right off into dreamland.
That is, until recently, when Riley suddenly began experiencing uncharacteristic insomnia. Now, we're talking about the child who has been known to--in a shared hotel bed--lie down, tuck the blanket up to his chin, and drift off while everyone around him continues to chat (and watch ESPN, naturally). He also has a habit of excusing himself from whatever is going on at home, announcing that he is tired, and requesting to be tucked in. So imagine my surprise when out of the blue he started coming into my room an hour or so after he had retired, complaining that he couldn't fall asleep. Even worse, after MY bedtime, I would hear his door opening and closing repeatedly, as he visited the bathroom for a drink, wandered up and down the stairs, and who knows what else (I was super-busy pretending not to notice, so I wouldn't have to actually converse with my child at that ungodly hour. I lay curled in a ball, sending "go to sleep already" vibes that I hoped would be just as effective in helping him to conquer his little difficulty.)
After this nighttime disruption continued for a day or two (and didn't just magically disappear on its own, like I wanted--drat) I decided we'd better address the issue. Riley and I sat down to chat and perhaps get to the bottom of things. (Me, metaphorically wearing my Dr. Mom, Sleep Therapist ensemble...what would that even be? Pajamas and a clipboard? Where was I...) I went through the basics: is anything bothering you? Are you worried about something? Is there a situation at school you'd like to talk about? All the while I'm thinking "Dude, you're NINE, what...stuff...could possibly be upsetting you? Everything in your life is okay, trust me!" But he assured me that nothing was pressing on his mind at the moment. So instead we moved right into the "problem solving" portion of our session--I mean "casual conversation". I reviewed several well-known methods for inducing sleep: counting whatever-you-want; playing a favorite movie in your head until you feel sleepy.
However, he reported that none of these quite did the trick. Clearly, it was time to break out the big guns--that's right, I went all yoga-zen-master on him. Well, I taught him a few tactics that are sort of related to meditation, anyway. First I reminded him of Positive Visualization, which he'd used successfully a few months ago when he had a brief spell of bad dreams that woke him up in the middle of the night. In a nutshell: picture your "happy place", whether it's somewhere you've been, a spot you'd like to visit, or a completely imaginary scene. Then we practiced Progressive Relaxation, where you tighten, hold, and release muscle groups from your toes upward, in sequence, then finish by conjuring the sensation of melting into the mattress, fully at rest. Next I demonstrated Belly Breathing; you deepen your inhales and exhales by expanding your abdomen rather than just your upper chest. Not only do you receive more oxygen, but also it naturally slows down the respiration process and soothes your body as well. Finally, for a few nights I narrated a story to him (some old favorites--The Frog Prince, The Gingerbread Man...anything with a moral, but nothing from the scary Brothers Grimm school of fairy tales...) before turning out the lights, so he could recall it in his head as a quiet, peaceful activity while (fingers crossed) becoming drowsy.
Armed with all of these tools, he seemed much calmer and more confident when staring down impending bedtime. And what do you know, except for the random potty break and maybe a glass of water, he seems to have returned to his sleep-through-the-night habits. And it's a good thing, because now I. Am. T-I-R-E-D. Maybe it's time for me to utilize a few of those techniques...for the approximately 3 minutes it takes for me to become unconscious...zzzzz....(I mean "goodnight"!)