9 Nov 2009

Things that go Bump

Image from m patrizio's Flickr stream here

From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

The Cornish and West Country Litany, 1926
Perhaps instead of quoting trite little prayers about things that go bump I should be beginning this post with Proverbs 16:18, because I am afraid that I have been guilty in the past of pride in Jemimah's ability to sleep.

Ever since she first slept through the night at 8 and a half weeks of age, she has been an absolute dream-child in this department; bed at 8pm, rise at 8am. Twelve hours each and every night. Lights off, door closed. I suppose I should have realised that it was too good to continue, but hey, she's almost eight, and it has! Or maybe now I need to say had. Past tense.

Admittedly we had one small hiccup. A year or so ago during a sleepover, an older cousin introduced a hitherto unthought of fear of the dark, by pointing out the creaks as evidence of monsters or other "long-leggedy beasties". We live in an old home. We have lots and lots of creaks.

We managed this quite easily at the time by simply leaving the passage lights on outside her room until it was time for us to go to bed at the usual time. We quite often had these lights burning anyhow, and so to turn them on deliberately at bedtime was no great hardship. The light that filtered through the doorway cracks, it seemed, was enough.

Until a fortnight ago. In the last two weeks Jemimah has developed a fully fledged insomnia problem. Each night one of two problems occurs:

Either it takes her "ages to fall asleep" and so at 11 pm when we are off to bed and turning off all the lights she is just going to sleep. With the advent of complete darkness BANG! she is suddenly wide awake again!!

Alternatively, she is exhausted at bedtime because of the palaver of the previous night and goes to sleep beautifully, only to awaken at about three in the morning. Again it is black, and again those goulies and ghosties are bumping away.

Either alternative is pretty bad. Both of them in succession has resulted in a household of cranky inhabitants. Even the dog goes slightly loopy when awoken at 3 am. She thinks she should be allowed up on my bed, and stands by scrabbling the bedclothes before deciding that she needs to go outside to relieve herself. Which of course she can't do alone.

And so now I am asking for help. Have any of you gone through this problem before me? Does anyone have anything that may help? Please share.

I suppose I should quickly run through what we have done, remembering that it is only a couple of weeks although it feels much longer.

We have encouraged her to talk about her fears. We have acknowledged the fear as real but the reason for the fear as excessive. We have talked about what causes the creaks and cracks and listened for them during the waking hours. We have discussed the fact that she is safe with her Mummy and Daddy in the same house, and more importantly that she is safe because God watches over her wherever she is. We have recited Psalm 121 and have encouraged her to pray when she feels alone and afraid.

We have not forced her to confront her fears. She is only 7, and to leave her lying awake afraid through much of the night seems unnecessarily heartless and we feel that it is unlikely to achieve a diminishing of her problem. We do not want a fully fledged long-term nyctophobia on our hands. (You all knew that was the proper term for a fear of the dark, didn't you?)

We have allowed her to switch on a light if she awakens during the night.

We have tried sitting with her (which didn't work because she lay awake talking to us), and have invited her into our bed with us. We have also tried sleeping in the spare bed in her room. These work, but we are constantly aware of the risk of rewarding 'poor behaviour', and so are disinclined to do this two nights in a row. Expressing fear is a sure way of getting our attention and she knows that. Tears work too. I hate lying in bed and hearing my daughter crying alone in the next room. I'm a sucker for tears because we see them rarely.

We are loving her. We are respecting her. We are reassuring her. We are helping her develop strategies to deal with the fear.

Does anyone else have any ideas?

When asked once if he were afraid of anything Thomas Edison replied "I am afraid of the dark." When he died, he had all the lights burning in his New Jersey home.

Maybe that's why he invented the light globe, and recently during the night I have been very glad that he did, but I think that little story is quite sad.

I really hope we can get Jemimah the help that Edison never did.

And soon. Preferable today.

I would love an unbroken night's sleep tonight, and so would she.


  1. Jeanne: you will not like what we did. Thanks to my oldest boy Ditz has always been terrified of the dark. She would not sleep alone. She would not sleep without a light. I like dark rooms so we had to compromise because I simply let the child sleep with me figuring she would move out of her own accord when she was ready. As she got bigger she would sometimes sleep on a mattress beside my bed but she was 10 before she moved into her own room & slept in her own bed by herself!

    My priority was sleep. I didn't care how we achieved that because it was quickly obvious Ditz was genuinely terrified & even though she knew there was no logical reason for her fear did nothing to assuage her fear. I did not consider it a behaviour issue ~ & we had done all the things you mention doing with Jemimah. In the end it was an entire house behaving badly or sleep. Sleep won.

    I never censure another parent on how they deal with sleep issues; it's too important an issue. I hope you find something that works for you. ♥♥♥

  2. Jeanne, have you tried leaving the "hall light" on all night for her? We have always done that, most of our children like to have a little bit of light coming into their rooms. We usually pull their doors almost to when we go to sleep to (attempt to) avoid waking them early when my husband is getting ready for work.
    Sleep is a high priority though, more so for some of us. I know I NEVER get enough!

  3. I'm with Ganeida here so far as not being a behaviour issue (like bed wetting) and not critizing other parents re sleep. Many's the night I have done whatever is necessary to get sleep. It is imperative!
    I think it is bad behaviour when a child starts tantrums etc at bedtime for attention, but J seems to be having a genuine fear/ anxiety.
    Yes, I did and still do let them in with us if they wake up frightened or disoriented. My youngest is frightened of the dark and likes light coming in but his brother who shares the room likes it very dark so looses sleep with the light! He will wander in late and get in just to get to sleep.
    And lastly, Jeanne. You have been extrordinarily blessed to have a little girl sleep so well for so long. I can hardly believe it. You know there are parents who would almost do anything for a night's sleep. I know it used to completely dominate my thoughts for many years. You can see by the length of our comments that it is a vital issue in most of our lives!
    Hope someone else has something more useful for you!

  4. My dear friends, I am starting to feel better already. Thank you all.

    Love, Jeanne

  5. Hi Jeanne,

    Hmm. I don't have alot to offer as our kids (thankfully) are all great sleepers. Have you tried soft music playing through the night? Songs that quote scripture are great. Otherwise, I think I would try warm milk, cammomile tea (?!) maybe even having the dog sleep on her bed. Anything! No judgement here, sounds like you're doing an amazing job trying to cope. I hope tonight is better for you all. xx

  6. Jeanne,

    We have had these nights on and off for the past couple of years or so and usually coming to sleep in our bed or leaving a light on as Rachel suggested helps.
    I cannot offer you anymore....other than to say that has it been something she has been reading or watching that has suddenly caused this fear?
    Rebekah will not watch our beloved Colin B's dvd's anymore due to "the funny man" (man in a mask on one of them) as he tends to appear in her dreams apparently after that.
    Though I'm getting OT as that relates to dreams:)

  7. Hi Jeanne,
    Why not try leaving a night light on in Jemimah's bedroom? That way when she awakens, it won't be dark, and hopefully, she will defeat her fears.

  8. I think sleep is your prioity here and neither would I treat it as a behaviour issue - just a current need. Sometimes it's helpful to deal with our own fears - such as 'she'll never sleep alone again' or 'we're encouraging bad habits' - sometimes getting past that self fear helps us better see how to help our child with their fear. But like others here I wouldn't make judgements about how you go about it - whatever works for you all is great. She won't be 7 forever - this too will past.

  9. I have had very good sleepers except one child, who truly drives me batty with her sleeping habits. (She's now 16yo and is a night owl).

    However, over the years we've tried a few things from the obvious like:

    --> warm milk before bed
    --> prayer and lots of it
    --> talking
    --> gentle back rubs with a drop of two of essential lavendar oil or chammomile oil, etc.

    But some of the other things to look at have been:

    --> Cutting down white products like sugar and flour.
    --> Checking urine- is it light in colour and check the odour. Sometimes children have been known to have an onset of glucose issues and this can wake them early in the morning.
    --> How is her nutritional intake throughout the day?
    --> How is her water intake?
    --> Is she being physically active throughout the day? Does she need more exercise?
    --> Look at the Vit B6 intake- increase foods rich in this vitamin.
    --> I've also used magnesium as a supplement: works very well!
    --> Chiropractic work can be beneficial as well- especially if treatment is needed.
    --> Acupuncture can also be of benefit and used even on babies.

    These are the things we have looked at or tried whenever we've had sleep related issues...hope they might be of some help.

  10. Oh boy! I feel your pain acutely! Of 5, only one my children has difficulty sleeping. And even one sleepless individual sure can make an impact on an entire household!

    I have no doubt that you will do your best in this situation, and that is all that we CAN do! As to the root of the problem being behavioral or genuine fear, I'll say two things. We have found a little of both with our precious non-sleeper. She has never really slept well, but there have been times of her life where she could actually sleep regularly through the night. Because of various fears however and not being naturally inclined to peaceful rest, she has suffered (haven't we all?) many periods of time where for many successive nights she would wake crying. Some of the things we did to calm her and/or cope did not bode well, and actually did cause a habit of 'needing' to be succored in the night. But I think with careful parenting like you are doing, and much prayer, you will be able to discern the best thing to do in your situation.

    Coping techniques we've used:
    1) Prayer is always the first thing we turn to. a)Going into her room to pray for her upon her waking and calling out to us. This resulted many times in my husband falling back to sleep in her bed... b)We pray before she goes to sleep this has become a requirement. c)We have taught her that she too must pray when she's afraid - that is trusting God.

    {I've posted the rest of this response on my blog!! It was over the 4,096 character limit... hahahah!}

    ...and voila! We had several months of peaceful sleep :)

    Anyway, peace to you! This too shall pass! :) Pray!

    This was SO long! hahahah! You must have hit a sore spot, no? :)

    Thanks for posting this, it gave me the opportunity to reminisce and refresh my resolve to deal patiently and lovingly with my own little 'fraidy cat.'

    PS. I'm curious what CM would say about fears... I've read something about it, but can't recall. I might go look it up!

    Tarapoto, Peru


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