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Sleep Delay. Is it a Real Thing?

Introduction to My Third Daughter:

Amarah was born in November.  In fact, she was my third daughter to be born in November.  I’m never really sure if it was Valentine’s Day that my fertility boomed, or if it was my birthday, just four days after Valentine’s Day.  Either way it happened and it happened when we thought it never would again which tells you one thing:  we were elated!!

First, we must back up to the past once again (I know damn it!  I’m annoying with the whole OCD taking over and I think I have to explain everything, starting from the beginning.  Just bare with me ok?).  In 2010 Dan and I found out we were pregnant with our third child.  Yet, I started bleeding right away.  Turns out that pregnancy was ectopic of my left fallopian tube and it nearly ended my life.  After surgery, my fertility specialist – eventually confirmed by my GP – told me that more than likely I would wind up with what is known as secondary infertility.  What confirmed that was a specific ultrasound that involves my “lady parts” to catch a glimpse of the remaining fallopian tube.  What was explained to me by our GP is that sometimes when we are missing an organ, other organs tend to overcompensate which is what my right fallopian tube was doing.  It was trying too hard to push/suck blood through that it’s little fingers had made the tube suck itself closed.  No blood flow?  That means an egg cannot travel to it’s appropriate destination and can then, instead, travel to an extrauterine area causing a different kind of ectopic pregnancy that can be very risky and/or fatal.  But most of the time, women just don’t get pregnant after that.  Most of the time, it is literally miraculous that a tube suddenly opens back up, and/or doesn’t die off from a lack of blood flow.  This is why they call it secondary infertility.  I’m sure you’ve guessed that we counted our blessings with two daughters and just went on with life, continuing to “practice” making babies but never had the thought we would actually make one.  But then we did!

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Amarah, from the start, was always a “go-go” baby.  At two weeks she was rolling over, both ways.  At one month she started sleeping through the night, all night.  At three months she could say mama or dada.  At five months she could sit up unassisted, would occasionally fall and pick herself back up to her sitting position.  Also at five months she  started scooting and did that for a while.  By seven months she was pulling herself up with furniture.  At eight months?  Standing alone for several minutes.  And by nine months she was walking really well and would at least repeat words but didn’t make full sentences containing two words until she was 18 months old.  Come two years of age, she was a chatterbox and just wouldn’t sit still.  She was very curious about things and never hesitated to get in to everything!  She’s very smart; always has been.  But then the iPad happened.

For us, it was a real thing, sleep delay.  Doctor’s sometimes refer to it as “blue screens.”  It may not be that way for everyone because it certainly hasn’t affected my other children the way it has for Amarah.  She was even considered at one point part of the sensory spectrum.  Let me explain.

Once we started allowing regular use of the iPad, I would even go as far to say they could have the iPad at their own freewill so long as they took turns.  That’s when we started noticing subtle behavioral changes in her.  It was hard to tell whether her stubbornness was coming from her age-phase (thrifty threes) or whether she was just a sassy girl taboot!  I mean, I hate to say it but she would act like a down-right brat.  But when trying different punishments for long periods of time and not having anything working to correct some behaviors my gut just kept telling me something was off (you folks should know me well enough by now to assume I’m still doubting my gut instincts).  This was when it was brought to my attention (by a friend with a daughter on the sensory spectrum, not by a doctor) that she may have a sensory disorder.  And what do I do as a mom!?  I immediately think worse-case-scenario and I’m concerned she may be autistic.  And yes, that’s totally me in many facets of my life, I jump to the worst thing and freak out; not that I believed that’s what she had but just simply freak out for a bit over the thought of it.

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Then, we noticed she was getting harder to put to bed.  Instead of our hard work and effort paying off, it seemed she was digressing.  She would cycle through phases that I realize seem otherwise normal.  We are all used to kids making excuses at bedtime.  We often hear, “I need to go potty again,” “I need a drink,” “It’s too bright,” “It’s too dark,” “I’m scared,” etc.  Again, just bare with me, it does get a little extreme at times.  At first, she had to have her blanket and a sippy, and yes I gave in because she quite literally wouldn’t sleep without them.  Then I would also have to sing to her, one song, then two, then three, then four.  I stopped at four.  Then we added books on top of that, stopping again at four books.  When we had to switch rooms to make room for the new baby we realized we couldn’t dare put her in that room with the new baby.  She was too rowdy.  Well, thankfully with the bunk beds having one full size bed on the bottom we were able to make all three bigger girls share one room for bedtime.  During this phase she had to be rubbed either on the back or on the legs plus all that other jazz.  She would even cycle through sleeping with each sister and even the floor!  Nothing I would do would get her to sleep within a few hours.  It felt impossible.

I took her in to her ped’s office when everything we tried just wasn’t working.  We tried teas, lotions, oils, breathing exercises, meditating, white noise (which helps in coordination with certain things), we even went as far as using melatonin supplements.  All those did for her was allow her a decent nap which charged her right up for another 20-22 hours.  Can you say exhausted?  During the visit with the ped we were relentless about her schedule.  We had to go through her diet, her activities, her sleeping patterns, what the melatonin did, etc.  I had a meltdown, crying to her ped. about how I run off of 2-4 hours a sleep a night and not because of the new born, but because of the then 3-year-old.

Any way, basically, when she dropped the ‘sleep delay’ bomb I just thought (go figure) her ped. was judging me for our screen time.  And I’m sure some of you are thinking, “uh, hello Darcy!  You’re at the doc’s office!  She’s not judging you, she’s trying to be helpful.  Stop being so sensitive.”  And at the time, I’m not going to lie.  I was in a place where I felt I had to be defensive for everything.  You know, because I had just had baby #4 and everyone’s reaction to that and even when I got preggers with Amarah (#3) I would hear it then too, “Again!?”  Raising four kids is hard and I knew the forth baby would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for my mental health.  Then to add a sleep delay because I suck at parenting and already feel like a failure, well, yes… I was defensive, period.  That’s why I felt she was judging me even though I fully know better than that.  Moving on, she explained what she meant.  She could tell I was being defensive.  I don’t remember if I said anything, or maybe it’s because I had just had a meltdown about how stressed I was with everything, but she went on to explain that the blue screen affect is when (as I understand, so I could be wrong) your brain doesn’t allow it’s serotonin to then produce or turn in to melatonin.  It’s like the wires being a bit crossed and therefore lack communication from brain to physical body, or there’s a kink in the hose that disconnects communication from brain to body.  She told me I would need to either eliminate the screen time all together, or I would have to limit it significantly; more specifically, I would need to make sure she didn’t have any screen time after 3pm and if that didn’t work then no screen time after lunch.

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I had to take a really good look at myself when these truths came out.  Everything she explained about the symptoms of it we were experiencing some, if not most of them.  So while she kept talking about more of the symptoms and more of the lasting affects and I think at one point she had mentioned addiction, I kept myself in my thoughts.  I thought about how I was failing at parenting four daughters, and this was just proof of it.  I thought to myself about how I was going to adjust the screen time.  I wanted her to have it since she couldn’t go outside by herself and often times her sisters would ignore her.  The baby isn’t big enough to play with yet and because I was occupied with work, and social awkwardness or really that I just didn’t want to socialize, she had no friends because I wouldn’t assert myself out in the real world with other mom’s who had children her age or close to.  I didn’t have the money to buy more and more activities for her to do since she’d do them with a quickness and get bored easily with them.  She’s never one to repeat something unless she really likes it.  Right now, she really likes make up.  Any way, at this point I realized I just have to buck up and shut up.  I have to put on my big girl panties and deal with this regardless of how tired I’m going to be.  Harry Potter made things a little easier.  Reading those books bored her to death that she’d fall asleep.  Regardless, I had my mind set.

I have since had to go back to laying with her or rubbing her back, holding her hand, singing or reading, etc.  It has been really trying on my patience at times.  It has been a tireless effort I feel, but I also feel it paying off, slowly but surely.  She has eventually gotten to the point where she will listen better and do as told.  She has gotten better at laying down and doing some imaginary things with her hands, or quietly playing with a doll until she’s relaxed enough to fall asleep.  She has even surprised us a few times by putting herself to bed.  I finally found hope through all those sleepless times, rubbing her back while trying to close my eyes.  I have woken in the middle of the night to still holding her hand, laying in her bed.  But there was hope and I needed to continue to persevere.  I gave myself a lot of pep talks (still do!).

I think what also helped me was doing my own research.   It’s great to have facts, but it’s equally helpful to know we aren’t alone in our journeys, that other parents out there are going through it too and have found some things that worked for their son or daughter.  A lot of them gave up their secret tricks to helping their child during this time.  All of it proved, however, that I was in it for a long haul, there really was no secret weapon for it, there was no curative treatment, there was simply and only hard work and sleepless times in my future.  What gave me the most hope, was reading their stories of their mistakes with the blue screens too.  A lot of moms harbored the same guilt I carried, they cried the same tears, they too had meltdowns in the peds office.  One mom, and I wished I had bookmarked her blog to share with you, she gave me the most hope.  She shared that her son started school full time and that was her biggest weapon for it.  He too was considered for the sensory spectrum, he too was advanced in milestones.  Her story was the most similar to my own.  I grasped her every word and I’ll be damned if school was the trick for us too!  I’m not sure why other than what I’m assuming is it exercises her brain in the way it needs.  She’s more challenged at school to actually think about things rather than following along with the next YouTube video.

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I can finally say that I’ve never slept better!  Instead of getting a nap from the hours of 2 or 3 am to about 4 or 6 am, I am now at least getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep nightly!  I call that a win.  We still have minor setbacks, so don’t get my wrong.  In fact, this Christmas break was pretty awful.  I was midst a fairly deep, depressive state (probably because work has me stressed more than it should) and I didn’t keep the kids on a somewhat normal schedule either.  They had to do chores in order to earn their screen time but we certainly (I guess I should say I, not we because my husband was way better at it than I was over break) didn’t monitor the time very well.  She would stay up later and later and towards the end of break I realized I had to start gaining some normalcy (thanks to Dan, he really helped in this arena because when I’m in that depressive state, unless I’m working I do need to sleep or I wind up with a physical ailment) with the kids, so I started paying attention to time and started making them go to bed sooner.  We nailed it on the head because my first day back to work, we didn’t have very many hiccups this morning.  Although, right now, Amarah isn’t too keen on sleeping at the moment, but probably because she keeps complaining of a stomach ache rather than not truly wanting to go to sleep.  Regardless, it’s only 11pm (close to any way) our time and she’s finally settled enough, yawning, rubbing her dolly to sleep, I’m confident she will be out in about 15 minutes.  And you know what?  It’s not the early hours of the morning and it’s happening on a night I decided to do this blog.

Parents, I know that it gets hard.  I know you want to give up right fucking now.  I wanted to throw the towel in and sometimes I did  throw in the towel (that’s how I wound up with murals on the walls and her hair being in a bundle on the floor or toothpaste everywhere, Desitin everywhere, toys all over the place, the iPad or other tablets disappearing, etc).  So was all that clean up, all that stress of wondering where she was in the house because I gave up, or what her hair would look like, or if I was going to be able to brush my teeth in the morning, or if she’d be alive because she’d figured out how to get ahold of our narcotic drugs, worth it?  Or was it more gratifying to lay with her and be a little tired the next day because I had to sing her seven songs, read 5 books, and rub her back for an hour?  Your choice!  I chose the latter because then we could have more normal family photos, I wouldn’t find cat litter in our dishes, I wouldn’t find new murals on the walls, I would have toothpaste to brush my teeth, etc.  I hope you choose the latter as well.

So, my tricks of the trade?  My secrets?  I’m probably going to tell you what any other parent who has a blog about sleep delays.  I probably haven’t explained anything else outside of what you’re experiencing.  The news I’m giving you probably isn’t new news.  And most likely, much like myself, you’ve tried a lot of different things (please don’t overdose your kid on Benedryl.  Research those affects after chronic use.  Once in a while? Fine in my book!  Can’t say I hadn’t tried it myself!  But all the time?  I will be judgy McJudgerton and tell you it’s bad to do that).  A lot of the “treatments” are things that only work if they are combined and if your child gets bored easily you will have to change it up from time to time.  But don’t throw the towel in.  Don’t give up on them.  Chances are that’s when they need you the most.  So, my best advice is to persevere!  When your brain tells you you can’t?  Scream back at it, you can!  Regardless, here’s a list if that’s what you’re looking for:

  1. Sleep Delay, it’s a real thing, you’re not crazy
  2. I know you’re tired but keep doing it any way.
  3. Lay with your kiddo!  Maybe you’ll fall asleep with him/her!  That’ll be a moment to cherish!  No, it’s not ideal and some people will judge you for that, but you’ll handle the judgement better if you get a little extra shut eye, right?  It’s more ideal to get a little extra sleep regardless of your whereabouts.
  4. Cry with them.  You both are frustrated.   You both need to let it all out!  Half the time they’re only crying because we lost our patience, and that’s ok!  You’re not the only one to lose your shit!  Perfection does not exist.  Complete patience does not exist!  But getting out that physical tension, both of you, can help you feel emotionally drained and therefore… exhausted!  Congrats!  Now, hold hands and sing songs and close eyes and go to sleep!
  5. Dim the lights or have no lights.  Brighter lights tend to trick the mind so it’s best to be safe until dawn arrives and provides enough light for our bodies to be aware, it’s time to wake!
  6. Use a sound machine or a fan, something with some white noise.  You don’t even have to pay for something fancy!  Download an app, use a circulating fan, turn the TV to something with static and turn down the volume (or use a radio station).
  7. Most of all, limit the electronics.  Try for no electronics after 3pm.  If you notice a slight improvement but it’s still not where you need to be, bump it up by one hour decreases.

I really hope this helps someone, anyone.  I know I’m not the greatest writer.  I know I don’t have the most eye-catching stories.  I’m a pretty boring person if you ask me (who cusses too much – thank God my children don’t repeat at school or with friends).  But I was someone who was lost one too many times.  I have often felt like a failure as a mother.  But I’m still here and I want to help.  If there’s anything I really love doing, is helping people.  If you need inspiration then I’ll help you with that.  If you just need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll do that.  I want to lift your spirits, help you find hope, help you find you because the good Lord knows, other bloggers have inspired myself to do the same, to pay it forward.

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And maybe, just maybe you feel you have a friend going through this too!  Please don’t hesitate to send them to this post, or share it on your social media.  Encourage them to email me, or leave a comment.  Leave a comment for yourself too!  I dare you to rack my brain people!

Symptoms of Sleep Delay

  • Has been considered for the sensory spectrum – or maybe you just feel this way
  • Refuses naps and bedtime with extremes.  I counted once, 22 times I took her back in to lay down; it was 3 am; she was playing quite loudly; one time she cut her hair in the middle of the night.  I get that some kids are just stubborn, but I think it’s fair or safe to say that if you’re putting your child back to bed more than ten times even though you’ve already let him/her/them stay up later than usual, it may be time to visit your peds office with questions about sleep delay.
  • Moody!  Sometimes I swear my child is already bipolar.  She will cry at the drop of a hat.  She will scream and get really angry at the drop of a hat.  And just as quickly she will turn around and be suddenly happy.  When she isn’t overstimulated, these moods however are much less extreme.
  • Can focus but acts hyper all the time.
  • Seems addicted to electronics – like, can’t live without it, addicted.

*****I am by no means a doctor, nor am I an expert on sleep delays.  I cannot actually diagnose someone; therefore, you should consult your GP, doctor, Pediatrician before assuming your child has a sleep delay based on my experiences only.  Please do your own research too.  All I can offer is a mom experience in this, nothing else.  Always consider professional advice above my own.  Good luck to you, my friend, on this journey.  I hope you find answers, I hope you persevere, but most of all, I wish your child wellness!  To those of you who feel this might just be another “fad” and I’m just a mom out for attention, selling you stories of bullshit so I can somehow get recognized on a full scale basis, how about you do me one little favor?  Look it up.  If you’re not a small minded individual and hell, maybe even a skeptic, do some damn research then.  That’s all it takes for a person to become enlightened.  That’s all it takes for someone to be more compassionate and empathetic towards those of us who are experiencing something that isn’t very well recognized.  Someone like me just wants to be understood and if you want to be genuine with someone like me, then you are going to try with all your might to put yourself in my shoes even though you may not have any children, just so you can express to me, genuinely, that you understand, that I’m not crazy.  ~Be kind always~

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