Sleep Is For the Weak, Oh Yes It Is

Moon over north-central New Jersey  Monday, 4.51am with a 1-hour snooze from 6 – 7am.

Tuesday, sometime before 4am with a 30 minutes snooze around 6.30am.

That's when Charlie has woken up for the past few nights and  I guess I should feel lucky that it's just been two nights. I mentioned this to another mother at Charlie's school while we were waiting to pick up our kids and she told me her son wakes up at 4am everyday. (And that she—impressive to me, being the sort of mom who pulls out a bagel and some fruit for breakfast—has made pancakes and eggs before 6am.) (I can't make pancakes, most end up slightly burnt.)

Charlie waking up so early is indeed a relatively new phenomenon. Most of his sleep problems have had to do with the falling-asleep-part. When he was about 7, Charlie started having a lot of trouble going to sleep and, by the time he was 9, he would often toss and turn for hours before finally conking out around midnight at the earliest. Mornings as a result became fraught with unpleasantries, as it was next to impossible for Charlie to wake up in time for the start of school. The morning became increasingly frantic as Charlie got bigger and the old, not really effective but what can you do, strategy of carrying him out of the bed and loading him into the car was rendered impossible. Much of last year—when Charlie started school his earliest ever, at 7.45am—was devoted to figuring out a way to wake up Charlie in as non-intrusive a way as possible, and we did find that playing music (the Beatles) and turning on the lights were fairly gentle ways to wake him. (Not that many a morning was not without its fireworks.)

We've got several explanations running around here as to why Charlie has been waking up so early. He knows that this is a short week at school with a big holiday on Thursday and my mom and dad are visiting: Two big changes in his and our routine. His anxiety about leaving his old school and starting at his new school and remaining at the new school are leading to the early wake-ups, as if Charlie, having found things all right after one week, is wanting (on both conscious and unconscious levels) to make sure that he still has a school, and that school in particular, to go too. On top of that, he's started sniffling and coughing and being congested, while exhausting, can make sleep not so easy.

Despite those early wake-ups, his Monday and Tuesday were pretty good. Monday ended with him getting upset and Tuesday started with a bout of crying. Both times he pulled off the helmet and, not that I needed a reminder, but I wrote to his case manager asking when is the Functional Behavior Assessment that should have been done last May if not last October going to be scheduled? It's certainly time to start a discussion about this potentially explosive topic and, while we have way too many feelings about it, we most definitely don't want it all to descend into snippy exchanges. Charlie is apparently able to compose himself after getting upset so things don't escalate as much as they could: Ok, not huge progress, but we've learned that if you get baby steps, you take 'em and keep working at it, gently. And, because the teachers are the ones teaching him, we know this issue has to be addressed in concert rather than in contention. (That's the ideal, at least.)

Later on Tuesday another student got very upset and Charlie and his classmates went on a walk and then into another room. I got the sense that he was agitated, but that was all. Certainly Charlie has long been sensitive to the emotions of the other children in his class, and someone else crying has upset him not only and not always because of the noise, but because, on hearing someone else feeling bad, Charlie does too.

Tuesday night Charlie took himself to bed at quarter after 6 and was asleep before 7pm: Good. I, not knowing of course when he might wake up, planned for another early morning of it.

It's something I've been appreciating. I am actually a morning person and have been making the most of these early wake-ups, reading student papers, writing emails, and making coffee while Charlie paces and asks about getting in the white car and, outside the windows, the dark fades away. 

Indeed, some students, on noting that I've been sending them 5.15am emails, noted that I seem to be getting up at the time they're going to bed. Guess we all live in a slightly topsy-turvy world in which no one gets sufficient sleep.

As for me, with everything going on, I'd rather be awake and even the early bird getting the proverbial worm.

Charlie woke up around 10pm and got fully dressed, down to his socks. It's going to be some night.

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Comments
19 Responses to “Sleep Is For the Weak, Oh Yes It Is”
  1. emma says:

    Charlie’s sleep pattern is completely out of whack! I imagine he went to bed so early from being tired after getting up so early, but it can become a circle. Is there anyway you can suggest to Charlie to stay up a bit later? Perhaps he would accept you reading a book to him while he is in bed, so he can stay awake a little longer?
    I hope Charlie got back to sleep ok.

  2. autismvox says:

    He is up right now and ready to head out the door—I thought he would fall asleep early but looks like now and he I will be pulling an “all nighter.” (Fortunately I am not going into work on Wednesday, due to the Thanksgiving holiday.) We’re going to have to work on something to get him back onto his schedule!

  3. Jen says:

    Charlie already does lots of exercise it seems, but we did find for a boy I work with who is about a year younger, who also likes lots of physical activity, that the time of day it happened had some effect on things. Exercise in the mornings meant he stayed up later, and after school exercise means he goes to sleep at a decent hour. I don’t know if he can read a clock, but I’ve often wondered for some kids I work with who get up too early if a digital clock might help. I’m thinking I could tape the minutes over, show them to stay in bed until it says some number might help.

  4. Jen says:

    Have you ever tried melatonin with him? It’s worked wonders for my girls here- the entire maternal side of my family (including me) has a habit of very early waking, but with the melatonin my girls are usually able to sleep through until a decent time. I don’t take it because I actually like having 3 hours to myself before everyone wakes
    up 🙂

  5. farmwifetwo says:

    Mine woke up at 1am this morning, and my first thought was… dang someone mentioned nocturnal 🙂 … He knows when it’s time to get up – 6am is the earliest with his Dad. He knows he has to go back to bed after a trip to the bathroom. He knows he can play with his toys in his bed. At that hour I gave him another melatonin. It took about an hour and he went back to sleep until 6:30am.
    Why he wakes up – when he does it’s usually btwn 3 and 4 – it’s from coughing, or not enough supper, or toys that I didn’t move from underneath him or…. just b/c.
    But I have worked and worked and worked to get him to stay in bed. I may be a morning person, but that’s too early to be up.

  6. Jen2 says:

    FW2, could you share some of your strategies for getting him to stay in bed? We’ve tried social stories, schedules, notes on the door, a clock in his room, white noise machine, toys and books to keep him occupied, and everything else we can think of, but nothing seems to have worked. (It seems that the more he needs to go back to sleep, the harder it is to get him to do so!)

  7. Dwight F says:

    >Tuesday night Charlie took himself to bed at quarter after 6 and was asleep before 7pm
    So he’s voluntarily going to bed earlier, too? Could he be finding himself used up of energy by the day now?
    I wonder if this will set a cycle into place that he might follow? It’s pretty normal for sleep patterns to change periodically, and sometimes the change is not gradual. This might become a new norm? Not necessarily the 1PM 🙂 , but the early rising.
    P.S. My oldest gets up at 5:30 regularly now. He’s out to the bus, which comes at about 6:10, before anyone else in the house is out of bed.

  8. Dwight F says:

    >Tuesday night Charlie took himself to bed at quarter after 6 and was asleep before 7pm
    So he’s voluntarily going to bed earlier, too? Could he be finding himself used up of energy by the day now?
    I wonder if this will set a cycle into place that he might follow? It’s pretty normal for sleep patterns to change periodically, and sometimes the change is not gradual. This might become a new norm? Not necessarily the 1PM 🙂 , but the early rising.
    P.S. My oldest gets up at 5:30 regularly now. He’s out to the bus, which comes at about 6:10, before anyone else in the house is out of bed.

  9. Dwight F says:

    Jen2,
    Does he like deep pressure? Have you tried a heavier set of blankets? Not for the heat, and if you are in a warmer climate you might have to switch to weighted blankets during the summer (they are thin blankets with some sort of heavy material sown in, high desity plastic beads being the best).
    P.S. When he was younger we locked G’s bedroom door from the outside.

  10. Dwight F says:

    Jen2,
    Does he like deep pressure? Have you tried a heavier set of blankets? Not for the heat, and if you are in a warmer climate you might have to switch to weighted blankets during the summer (they are thin blankets with some sort of heavy material sown in, high desity plastic beads being the best).
    P.S. When he was younger we locked G’s bedroom door from the outside.

  11. emma says:

    Just for info, melatonin is available as fast release and slow (or sustained) release. A lot of people have said quality varies with brand and batch. Some families I know for safety reasons have put barn/dutch style doors in kids bedrooms, so the bottom half is locked for safety during the night but it’s not so “prison like” (you can end up with serious problems with social services).

  12. emma says:

    Just for info, melatonin is available as fast release and slow (or sustained) release. A lot of people have said quality varies with brand and batch. Some families I know for safety reasons have put barn/dutch style doors in kids bedrooms, so the bottom half is locked for safety during the night but it’s not so “prison like” (you can end up with serious problems with social services).

  13. Regina says:

    It must have been awhile, since I’m fuzzing out on details, but we had a spell of very early rises. For us it had to do with a growth spurt, and our daughter was hungry…which sounds like is not the case with Charlie, esp. since for her it coincided with late bedtimes. We don’t do melatonin now because a short trial did not agree with her.
    Now that adolescence is more established, sleeping is no longer the problem, night-owl tendencies and wanting to sleep in is, although when she does get up it’s still cheerful as a daisy (for which we thank our lucky stars) and not a bear-without-coffee like me.
    I’m an irregular sleeper and if I take a power nap at 6 or 7 and my husband doesn’t get me up in an hour, it’s up at 3 or 4AM, or 10, 11PM or 12AM and then the sleep clock is out of whack for a few days. The reset there has been to fight the urge to take a nap again, the next day which just keeps the pattern going, and either go to bed at the usual or stay up slightly later than a normal bedtime until I’m really tired but not wasted- but get up at the usual time. That has usually helped to reboot the system, and then I make myself go to bed within the “usual time”.
    V. Mark Durand has some suggestions for different strategies for sleep problems,depending on their nature, including difficulty maintaining sleep (pp. 22-24 and 96-98) in, Sleep Better!: A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs.

  14. Regina says:

    It must have been awhile, since I’m fuzzing out on details, but we had a spell of very early rises. For us it had to do with a growth spurt, and our daughter was hungry…which sounds like is not the case with Charlie, esp. since for her it coincided with late bedtimes. We don’t do melatonin now because a short trial did not agree with her.
    Now that adolescence is more established, sleeping is no longer the problem, night-owl tendencies and wanting to sleep in is, although when she does get up it’s still cheerful as a daisy (for which we thank our lucky stars) and not a bear-without-coffee like me.
    I’m an irregular sleeper and if I take a power nap at 6 or 7 and my husband doesn’t get me up in an hour, it’s up at 3 or 4AM, or 10, 11PM or 12AM and then the sleep clock is out of whack for a few days. The reset there has been to fight the urge to take a nap again, the next day which just keeps the pattern going, and either go to bed at the usual or stay up slightly later than a normal bedtime until I’m really tired but not wasted- but get up at the usual time. That has usually helped to reboot the system, and then I make myself go to bed within the “usual time”.
    V. Mark Durand has some suggestions for different strategies for sleep problems,depending on their nature, including difficulty maintaining sleep (pp. 22-24 and 96-98) in, Sleep Better!: A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs.

  15. autismvox says:

    So as it turned out, Charlie walked around very edgy and insistent on going to school. At around 1am he fell asleep sitting up on the couch, as a result of which he could sleep without coughing. He woke at 7am, asked to go to school of course and started coughing and coughing and coughing. So we told him he had to stay home.
    I’m very happy with him waking himself up earlier on his own, 5.30 would be great, maybe not 4am all the time though……..

  16. Regina says:

    “as a result of which he could sleep without coughing.”
    (That sounds like it might have some significance to not being able to sleep.) I hope he’s feeling well or at least isn’t coming down with something like the flu.
    How are you doing? Did you get enough sleep, or is it a quad-shot coffee kind of day?
    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

  17. autismvox says:

    Jen wrote—“(It seems that the more he needs to go back to sleep, the harder it is to get him to do so!)”—exactly! These past few mornings I have been able to get Charlie to sit down for a nap, however short, by not making much of a big deal out of it—no pleading etc.

  18. could this be some long term effects from stopping Risperdal over the summer? I know it and Geodon help promote sleep, which is what Matt takes so when he goes to bed at 6ish he gets up 12 hrs later

  19. could this be some long term effects from stopping Risperdal over the summer? I know it and Geodon help promote sleep, which is what Matt takes so when he goes to bed at 6ish he gets up 12 hrs later

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