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I’m Afraid That I’ve Passed My Insomnia On to My Child

Image source: thinkstock
Image source: thinkstock

Last night, I drifted off to sleep while listening to music. Earbuds have become about as essential to me as flannel pajamas on a cold winter night — I never travel without them.

Quiet, low tempo tunes give me something to focus on other than my thoughts. Without this distraction, I sometimes toss and turn for upwards of an hour before drifting off, unable to quiet my mind.

My 5-year-old son is the same way. He’s an imaginative thinker with a ton of energy and a penchant for anxiety. Before lights out, he has an elaborate wind-down routine that involves books, cuddles, sips of water, and trips to the bathroom. Then, finally, he lays in the dark with an iPad, listening to a ten-minute guided meditation routine for kids.

I used to think that it was good that I had sleep problems too, because I can understand why he finds it so challenging to turn off his thoughts and settle down. Turns out, he probably has sleep problems precisely because I do also.

Time Magazine reports on a new study which finds there may be a genetic component to issues like sleepwalking and night terrors. In fact, a child is three times more likely to sleepwalk if one of their parents have done it as well. If both parents are sleepwalkers, the child is seven times more likely to do it.

I’m not relating this info to make you feel bad about yourself. You can’t do anything about what gets passed on to your children through your DNA; it’s out of your control. But what you can do is prepare adequately, and worry a little bit less about it.

For example, Felix was beginning to get really stressed out about how long it was taking him to fall asleep. He’d appear at the top of the stairs, worried that he would never drift into la-la land. My wife and I struggled to deal with him patiently, especially when he was still getting up an hour or more after we said goodnight. Of course, our stress would ramp up his stress, making his sleeplessness worse.

Finally, I began to flip the script from “what are you doing still awake?” to “I get it, I take a long time to fall asleep too. Don’t worry. It’ll happen eventually.”

I encouraged him to think calm, happy thoughts and just enjoy the time in the darkness.

Instead of seeing my son as having sleep “problems,” I simply accepted that these were his sleep habits. That positive spin helped lower everyone’s anxiety around bedtime, and as a result, the past couple of weeks he’s been going down like a champ.

Does he always fall asleep straight away? No. But he’s not popping out of bed every ten minutes in a state of anxiety. So we’re all happier.

A part of me wishes he hadn’t inherited my nighttime restlessness, while another part thinks he’s going to have a blast in college, when my staying up late meant that I rarely missed those spontaneous mid-week-late-night hang outs. And he’ll be well prepared for new parenthood, a time no adult gets the sleep that they require. So it’s not all a curse.

It’s just the way it is, another point of connection between the two of us. Like father, like son, at least when it comes to sleeping, or lack thereof.

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