Saturday, May 23, 2015

The one with the sleepwalker

Dear Dad,
My six year old son has been a stress case lately. He whines continuously from the minute he wakes up until he is asleep. He is now waking up at night. When he wakes up he immediately hops out of bed and starts yelling for me, but I can tell he isn't fully awake. When I go to see what's the matter he mumbles and acts all confused while wandering the house and looking in cupboards and going in and out of rooms and such while whining and crying. When he is fully awake, he just sits and cries and tells me he just wants to sleep and "can't deal with this any more." This happened multiple times every night for about 2 weeks now. I am going in and talking to his teacher tomorrow to see if anything is going on at school that could be causing his stress. I will also make an appointment with his doctor. I just wanted to ask you what you think as I have had many sleepless nights.

Dear 'Sleepless',
I can say, with fair probability, that your son whines all day because he is sleep deprived. Aside from that, it is difficult for me to answer your question with a definitive answer. I have a B.A. in Psychology, which in no way qualifies me to make any type of medical or psychological opinion as to what is going on. I think your plan to meet with your son's teacher and your son's doctor is spot-on. They will be a wealth of knowledge in helping you decipher exactly what is going on with him.
In the meantime, as a parent of an occasional sleepwalker, I will advise you I strongly suspect your son is also a sleepwalker and may have a mild form of "night terrors" (though I also suspect this is caused by the exhaustion based on the pattern you described). One of our twins wakes up from time to time in a similar fashion, and will hold entire conversations that she will not remember the next day. I have more than once found my daughter sitting in awkward positions in random rooms in our house (and once when my wife and I were watching a horror film about ghost-kids emerging from television sets with their bodies creepily contorted). I admit it was very scary before we knew what was going on (and also a little funny when my wife tells the story of how I screamed at the top of my lungs when I found my daughter, assuming she was an embodiment from the horror film).
My advice is to treat your son as though he is asleep no matter what he is saying or doing (because I suspect he may be). Gently guide him back to his bed and do not make eye contact with him, nor should you engage in conversations with him. Gently repeat: "shh, shh, shh" to him and lay him back in bed and re-tuck him in. Rub his back for a couple of minutes repeating "shh, shh, shh," and then say: "you are safe, goodnight, I love you." You should then, with ninja-like mobility, contort your body as needed to back out of the room without creaking a floor board or so much as making a sound, and return to the haven of your warm and cozy bed, even if only for another hour or two.
I would take extra measures to ensure his safety: make sure all windows and doors are locked, all child proof locks are enabled, and double check to make sure nothing is left out that could lead to harm in any way (are the dishwasher and pantry doors locked?). He is not aware, but is mobile, and that is a frightening concept while you are sleeping - even if he knows the rules of your home, they will not apply to him in this physical state.
Follow up with his teacher and doctor to see if there are any underlying causes for this behavior. Once you get over the shock and the fear of what may seem like odd behavior, you will be able to deal with these late night occurrences like they are part of the bed time ritual.
Please be advised, 'Sleepless', this, too, shall pass. We haven't had an "episode" in a long while, and our daughter is now six years old as well. I am sending good thoughts and energy to you and your family. Please keep us updated.

Sleep is a major issue in our household.  I have been a night owl since I was a preteen and have difficulty falling asleep, while my wife has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Two of our daughters seem to be taking after me having difficulty falling asleep, while my sleepwalker can fall asleep sitting up, mid-sentence.  This makes me wonder:  how many other families have sleep issues, and what do you do to help keep things running like a smooth sailing ship?

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