My 11-year-old recently went through a regressive phase of not wanting to go to sleep. First, he’d get up 15 to 20 minutes after tuck-in and say he wanted a drink. Then, his tummy hurt. Then, he wanted a small light on. Then off. Then back on. Then he was afraid of shadows on the walls, or little indeterminate sounds indicative of a household still quietly bustling after his bedtime.
I did this to myself, really: All that bragging about what a great little sleeper I’d produced was coming back to me. Since the infant stage, my son has gone to bed without any trouble, entering what seems to be a near-comatose state of unconsciousness that consistently lasts for 12 hours. Even when he isn’t feeling well, he sleeps like a brick. I’ve always thought it’s because he was born premature and got used to the chaos of incessant monitor-beeping and bustling nurses in neonatal intensive care. When he was discharged from the NICU, happy and healthy, he took his late-night feedings like a champ and fell promptly back to sleep. Within six months, we were both sleeping through the night.
New, sleep-starved parents just love when I tell that story. Don’t worry; it took 10 years, but I’m getting mine.
My son decided what he most wanted was for me to stay in his room until he fell asleep. I begrudgingly agreed, because after a cumulative eight hours of sleep over three nights, I’d have tried anything.
It was rough at first. (Have you ever silently army-crawled out of a slumbering tween’s bedroom?) But then, on the second night of lying on his floor, half my legs sticking out below a Minecraft blanket, back aching, I remembered that I, too, used to fear shadows on the walls in my childhood bedroom. I, too, used to pull the blanket up over my head so I couldn’t see them, and to muffle the weird sounds that no adult could convince me were “just the house settling.” (What does that even mean?) I, too, used to overheat under that blanket and throw it off, thus exposing myself to all manner of monsters that moments before had been thwarted by mere fabric. I, too, wanted someone close by until I finally drifted off. I, too, have had trouble falling asleep sometimes, tossing, listening, and worrying.
It’s easy to forget how hard growing up can be. When I shared all this with my son over our breakfast cereal the next morning, his face relaxed. He wasn’t alone.
After an impromptu room rearrangement to minimize wall shadows (his brilliant idea), a new bedtime routine with books and without screens, and 5 mg of melatonin, our sleep schedules are, knock on wood, back on track. Turns out, to stay attuned to my child’s needs, I have to remember my child self. To rest easy, I have to keep my eyes wide open.
Stacia Fleegal is the Penn Stater’s online editor.