I have struggled with falling asleep, staying asleep, and returning to sleep for as long as I can remember. I will say that falling asleep at bedtime has gotten easier due to the sheer exhaustion of a day spent caring for a house and many children. But returning to sleep? Still very difficult. So, if my husband and I don’t train our children to stay out of our bedroom at night, I quickly reach a level of sleep deprivation that takes a serious toll on my mood and my health and, in turn, our family’s well-being.
My children have come to refer to my night personality as “Malefi-Mommy”. In their database of scary villains, Maleficent from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is as terrifying as they come. She’s the one in dark corners and closets by day. And she’s the one sleeping on my side of the bed at night. From 11pm until 6:30am, I’m pretty darn scary. Mostly, because I’m furious when they wake me and I face the prospect of another hour or two of trying to fall back asleep. But also, because I want to burn in their psyches that they may not sleep-walk or awake-walk or dream-walk or any-kind-of-walk into my room at night and wake me up just because they feel like it. Infants who have a biological need to nurse at 5:30am are allowed to wake me up until we train them to sleep through until 7:30am. But my first grader does not need me to get water for her at 1:30 am, my Kindergartener does not need to recount the nightmare he had last month at 3am, and my 4 year old does not need to cosleep at 4:30 am. If we left them to their own devices, I think each one would be visiting us twice a night at least. That would amount to 6 non-baby wakings for my husband and me, or giving into a permanent family bed situation, neither of which is on the table.
I even HIGHLY discourage them from coming in when they have nightmares. First of all, as an insomniac, I’m well aware of the psychological component of sleep, and I have read from sleep psychologists that if children are allowed to wake their parents by crying “nightmare”, it actually trains them to have scarier thoughts at night. As they enter into light sleep cycles or wakeful periods, they will involuntarily replay past nightmares or scary thoughts in their imaginations, subconsciously creating a reason for paying mom and dad a visit. Apparently, children only legitimately have nightmares once in a blue moon. If it occurs every night or a few times a week, something else is going on. And I have to say, once we cracked down on “nightmares” as an excuse for nocturnal visits, the nightmares have all but ended–the kids rarely have scary dreams to report in the morning.
Furthermore, a wise (and strict) red-head who blogs here once told me that she and her husband direct their children to guardian angels, Jesus, Mary and patron saints at night. A couple years ago, we began doing the same thing, with excellent results. I have explained to my children that I cannot control their imaginations, or even really help them to control their imaginations, but their guardian angels and Jesus and Mary very powerfully can. I believe that this is not only teaching them now to turn to their spiritual helpers when they are afraid; it is also giving them practice for the future (purity of thought, etc) in consecrating their imaginations to Jesus and asking for His help in taking every thought captive.
Finally, it’s disrespectful to interrupt others’ sleep without serious reason. As my father-in-law recently said, in a large family, the dynamic cannot be two parents serving 5 children; it must shift to become 7 family members all loving and looking after one another. Respecting parents’ need for adequate rest is a component of that.
And the simple fact that my children think I’m scarier at night than many of their worst nightmares has become a helpful deterrent to impulsive night visits.