It’s 11:00 on a school night and Tyson is still awake.
It’s going to be one of those nights when sleep doesn’t come easy.
I hate those nights.
I absolutely love my sleep and I am quite crusty (that my word for contrary) without it. I don’t need much, a good 6 hours works for me.
I am only actually talking about sleep because right now we are going through a little (and hopefully short lived) sleep regression.
When Tyson was little, sleep was one of our biggest issues.
Mark had to hold him tightly in his arms and rock him to sleep, every single night. It would take a very, very long time for him to settle.
And then he had to make it upstairs and put him down in his crib/bed without him waking.
And after all that, he would often wake at 1 or 2 in the morning and be awake for hours.
It was awful.
This was the norm 4-5 nights per week.
It was like having a newborn except he wasn’t a newborn.
I was severely sleep deprived. Mark was severely sleep deprived.
Tyson however, didn’t appear sleep deprived. In fact, he was a bundle of energy.
During this time, Tyson was also into the habit of what I called ‘stripping beds’. He would go into our room and take all the blankets off the bed and get between the fitted sheet and the mattress.
I remember one night going to bed really late after staying up to watch a TV show (bad idea) and finding my bed naked. I could have cried.
Tired, needing sleep and a personality that requires a fully made bed does not work.
We tried everything to get him to sleep.
He had a very specific bedtime routine, no electronics after 7, consistent waking time each morning. Nothing helped.
Nothing helped until we found melatonin.
For years I was hesitant to give it to Tyson each time a professional suggested it and many suggested it.
It took driving home from work after getting two hours of sleep the night before (yes, two hours of sleep) and completely cutting off two separate vehicles to finally admit something had to change.
If I felt like crap on a daily basis, then surely Tyson must have felt the same.
Introducing melatonin give us all our sleep back.
We still have sleep issues but it is minor compared to the years from ages one to five.
Anything that alters Tyson’s routine results in a sleep setback.
We are now on ‘it gets dark earlier’ change in routine.
Soon it will be the daylight savings time change.
Then after that comes Christmas, where the lack of routine plus the stimulation will cause sleep change.
And in between all of that, is the going to St. Bride’s with Nan and Pop for the weekend change in routine.
This is why we try as much as possible to stick to a consistent wake time every morning, weekday or weekend.
It sucks to wake a quiet, sleeping child on the weekend but it is necessary if we want him to go to bed that night.
Tyson will also struggle to fall sleep the night before an exciting event – first day of school, birthday, anything out of the ordinary.
First day of school this year he went to sleep on time but was up at 4 am for the day.
According to a recent study (Souders et al; 2017) 60-86% of children with ASD have sleep difficulties.
That’s a lot of tired moms and dads.
Our body naturally produces melatonin in a circadian pattern with increased levels at night and relatively low levels during the day.
Several studies have also found considerably lower levels of melatonin in autistic children.
If being an autism parent is not hard enough … now we need to do it on broken, irregular sleep.
Now don’t get me wrong, melatonin is not magic (even though some nights it feels like it). My friend calls is liquid gold.
For Tyson, it calms his body enough so he can fall asleep.
In order for melatonin to work for Tyson all the other factors need to be in place which consists of no electronics directly before bed, black out curtains, melatonin given at the same time each night, consistent wake time in the morning and more recently a compression sheet on his bed.
It’s all part of the process.
Sometimes we are not great with taking away the electronics on time and then wonder why Tyson is having trouble falling asleep.
All these steps are necessary for a good nights sleep.
For me, part of the reason why I struggled in deciding to give Tyson melatonin was because it almost felt like I was failing.
Failing as a parent.
Why could I not get my child to sleep?
Why could I not just deal with the lack of sleep, isn’t it just a part of parenthood?
For parents out there that are in a similar situation, this is my message to you – let go of the guilt.
Sleep is not a luxury but a basic biological need, just like food and water.
Our bodies need sleep and during sleep important biological processes occur such as body repair (Google it, it’s true).
Moms often put the well being of everyone before themselves but in order to be our best, we need to make sure our basic biological needs are met.
Melatonin is not the answer for every child, but finding a solution to your child’s sleep issues is necessary for both their health and well-being and your own.
And it’s okay to need help from others to make that happen.
Disclaimer – I’m not a medical professional therefore parents should seek medical advice before introducing any type of supplement.