Child Sleep disturbances. By Cole Gamble for

Our three-year-old, Jillian, loves the nightlife. She keeps the party going at all hours, bouncing around her bedroom. The kid hates to sleep, fights violently against it. You can see exhaustion spread through her as she lashes out at this invisible foe. Still, she doesn’t give up. No matter how tired she gets, she keeps swinging from the rafters, enacting a nightly Cirque Du Soleil in the room next to ours. 

My wife, Nicole, and I just stare at our bedroom ceiling, praying for Jillian to get a cold so we can pump her full of Baby Nyquil. Vigilantly, we listen through the wall for the tiniest sniffle, a whisper of a cough, and when we hear one, we sing: “Jillian’s gonna sleep tonight! We’ll fill her full of medicine and sedate her against her will!” And then we give her a decongestant (commonly used in the production of meth) and it causes Jillian to tweak harder than a trucker with an eight-ball. Shirtless, she flips over all the furniture in her room, as if to announce, “I need space to practice my nunchucks!”

And so it goes, our daughter’s nightly blitzkrieg. When she finally crashes, she literally crashes. Entering her room in the morning, we find Jillian wherever she was when sleep overtook her: in the corner, behind the dresser, on the windowsill. The sound of her falling to the floor in an unconscious lump might be sweet if it weren’t also accompanied by the tweets of birds greeting dawn.

Jillian’s insomnia has left her mother and me in a zombified state of sleep deprivation. There are three things a human needs to stay alive: food, water and sleep. I would gladly forgo the first two for a week in exchange for just one night of uninterrupted slumber. Lack of sleep messes with your head. You walk through your day in a cloud. A foul, hateful cloud. My wife and I begin to hate our lives. We hate each other. We hate the nighttime and we hate the daytime. Once someone at work caught me getting testy and said, “Before you act in anger, sleep on it.” I laughed. Then I ripped his lungs out.

If the sleep problem is ruining us, it’s wrecking Jillian. Waking her in the morning is like trying to rouse an especially surly seventeen-year-old. “GO AWAY,” she shouts, yanking the comforter over her head. Gently peeling the blanket back only provokes wild haymaker swings that often connect. Once the kid is on her feet, Nicole and I must work together to pour her limp body into clothes. Jillian cries, “I hate you! I wanna go back to bed!” Her teachers at pre-school have complained: “We can’t get her to focus,” “She’s upset and uncooperative all day long.” Jillian gets so painfully tired and yet every night there’s another after-hours rave. No matter how little sleep she gets, she still won’t go to bed.

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