Since you helped me in the past with a really serious issue, I was hoping you’d have good advice for me again. This time the problem involves one of our children, and it’s become an exasperating and somewhat worrying situation. Let me explain.
Our only daughter is ten years old, quite mature for her age (actually a real mother’s helper), is a good and conscientious student, sensitive and affectionate, and suffers from – of all things – insomnia! No matter when she goes to sleep or how tired she is, she either lies awake for hours or falls asleep briefly and then wakes up and is unable to fall back asleep for a good while.
This is taking a toll on her affable personality and I fear her studies will suffer as well. For a short period of time I gave her melatonin supplements that seemed to help, but I wasn’t comfortable with the concept (although I know many parents who resort to this method of getting their children to sleep).
Any advice you have for us will be welcome and appreciated.
Restless over our daughter’s restlessness
Your brief letter is missing many details. For starters, you indicate that your daughter helps out with the care of a younger sibling (or more than one). Could she possibly be feeling overwhelmed by playing mommy, especially on school nights when presumably she has studying assignments to complete?
As a “conscientious” student, can she be feeling pressured to keep her grades up in order to maintain your admiration and approval?
Other considerations to take into account: Food intake right before bedtime can cause sleeplessness — especially the sugary and fatty kind that stimulate the mind or can create enough physical discomfort to keep a child – or adult – from being able to fall asleep.
Does your daughter sleep in a room by herself in a calm atmosphere, or does she share? Is there light in the room or filtering in from the outside? Exposure to light prohibits the circulation of melatonin (the hormone that promotes sleep), while darkness makes it kick in naturally.
Is your daughter privy to adult conversation in the home that involve troublesome events or is revealing of your own worries about private or world affairs — the kind that could keep her from getting a peaceful night’s sleep?
Generally speaking, we are a sorely sleep-deprived people who tend to feel we are missing out while we snooze. In actuality, the opposite is true; our quality of life is directly affected by the quantity (and quality) of our sleep.
The National Institute of Health considers our average less-than-7-hours as chronically insufficient and cites a requirement of 7-1/2 to 9 hours of sleep a night for an adult to function at a maximum level. (Children require more.)
No, it’s not normal to be feeling drowsy while driving in heavy traffic, or to feel like your eyelids are glued shut upon being wakened by an alarm clock. In fact, the inability to awaken without the ringing of an alarm is an indication of a lack of sleep.
The ramifications of sleep deprivation, aside from midday exhaustion, range from moodiness and irritability to reduced immunity (leading to frequent colds and infections), while the benefits of adequate sleep are immeasurable. As we sleep, our body and brain get an overhaul and all of our cells are rejuvenated. Small wonder that sleep is said to be as nourishing to a healthy mind and body as food.
Dr. Mehmet Oz correlates inadequate sleep (6 hours or less per night) with serious health issues, among them obesity, cancer and heart disease. But don’t we all know someone who seems to function fine on little sleep? Researchers at the University of California have discovered that a rare gene, appearing in less than 3% of the population, enables one to do well on six or fewer hours of sleep. (That leaves 97% of us in desperate need of more shuteye.)
The reader who is skeptical of “modern-day” studies cited by researchers, doctors and health institutes would do well to note the Rambam’s prescription (from over 800 years ago) of eight hours of sleep a night for overall health.
Our average sleep needs according to age (courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation): Newborns (0-2 months) – 12-18 hours; infants (3 months to 1 year) – 14-15 hours; toddlers (1 to 3 years) – 12-14 hours; preschoolers (3 to 5 years) – 11–13 hours; school-aged children (5-12 years) – 10-11 hours; teens and preteens (12 to 18 years) – 8.5-10 hours; adults (18+) – 7.5-9 hours.
In the absence of underlying health issues (ruled out by her pediatrician), you may want to consider having your daughter visit a youth counselor/therapist to try to get at the root of what is causing her restless nights.
The option for a sleep aid in the form of melatonin in a pill is available as a quick fix — but should be discussed beforehand with a qualified physician.
Personally, I would opt for a warm cup of milk before resorting to a pill habit. Adapting a routine of reciting krias shema and placing negel vasser (hand washing cup and basin) by her bed for her convenience upon arising in the morning (a segulah for promoting good sleep) should have your daughter enjoying a restful night’s sleep in no time.
Good luck and keep us posted!
Confidential to James P. (Yaakov): Appreciate your thoughtfulness in updating me. I am delighted that Rabbi Herman has been in touch and been able to be of help. May Hashem hearken to your prayers and continue to be at your side in your time of need.
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