Not So Sweet Dreams

Dear Parentworks, 

My 5 year old son has started doing some pretty weird things. We just had a baby and whenever the baby wakes up for a night feeding, my older son starts screaming and refuses to go back to sleep, he flaps his arms and kicks his legs and sometimes he's even wet the bed. He's always been a funny sleeper because we never know when his allergies are going to keep him awake but this is getting out of hand. My husband now works early in the morning so he really needs his sleep but I'm getting exhausted getting up by myself trying to deal with both of these screaming kids. Here's another weird thing, my son seems fine in the morning and usually doesn't really even remember what's happened in the night - even though he's wet. Help?!?

- Exhausted Every Night

Dear  Exhausted,

There are a number of things happening in your family's life that could be contributing to the symptoms you are witnessing in your sons night time behavior. Identifying, sorting through and prioritizing them will help you get a better idea of where to start looking for solutions.

It is really understandable how frustrating it must be for your family to try to determine a solution when it’s hard to identify where the problem may really originate yet clearly dealing with a consequence (which is his waking). Therefore, I really think a first step would be to consult with your doctor regarding possibly side effects of his medications and alternatives/solutions. I know it is a difficult balance between health in one area at the possible negative health impact in another area. But none of the other potential solutions may work without first knowing what effects the medication and it’s wearing off properties may be having on him. Should it turn out that the medicine can be ruled out as an important factor then you can proceed to a next level. I suggest you also review “Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems” by Richard Ferber. I agree with his suggestions in Part 4, Partial Wakings. Trying as much as possible to establish predictable routines would be the next step.

Regarding your suggestion that he sometimes wakes due to the baby’s late/early feeding perhaps a machine which produces “white noise” in your son's bedroom area might help mask other night noises which might be disturbing him. Lastly, due to the number of changes in your lives, providing one on one time each day just for him would be very important now. Help him to put words to what he may be feeling, casually point out any stressor you observe by way of an "I wonder if this has been bothering you..." statement. Subtlety incorporate the idea of babies or sickness in your play time with him,  this could help provide a safe way, when he's awake, to let him work out anything that might be happening internally that he isn’t able to express in any other way. With your help and guidance, he will overcome this troubling time and you will all be able to sleep sometime in the future.