The Thing That Would Not Sleep
Enzo’s busy ADHD brain kept him up and active even as a baby. We had to develop guerrilla tactics to ease him into sleep.
We used to dread bedtimes. Once the novelty of being born wore off, once he rested up from that exhausting ordeal, Enzo just could never see the point in sleeping. He just didn’t want to miss a thing. If I wasn’t able to nurse him down, his dad, “Dave,” would carry him around the house and the yard showing him how the birds were asleep, the animals were asleep, all his friends were asleep, his toys were asleep, and daddy was, well, dead on his feet.
We always thought we were bad parents. His little friends would just put their heads down and close their eyes when they were sleepy. It was probably because of the pacifier that he never learned to self-soothe. It was probably the co-sleeping. And then, after two or three years of that, when he took up combat sleeping, it was probably because we didn’t have the guts to let him cry it out past 2 or 3 AM.
The ADHD diagnosis turned out to be a sweet victory. See? He’s neurologically different. He’s got thoughts in his brain. All night long. Thoughts, do you hear me, interesting thoughts! Hah! to you doubters!
Beyond the typically prescribed bedtime baths, off-buttons on TVs, rigid routines (hard to keep when you have ADHD, too), and ban on Coke at dinner, we had to work hard to find remedies that worked. When I was a baby, the only thing that would put me to sleep was a drive around the block in the Volkswagen Bug. That never worked for little Enzo — cars, as you know by now, are way too interesting to him.
These things did:
- A Positive Attitude. Knowing that I was the adult helped me “dominate” my toddler into taking a nap when he needed it. Sometime around age 7, I looked at my husband and said, “You know, even though it hasn’t seemed like it, he has actually gone to sleep every night of his life.”
- Homeopathics. We discovered these tiny little sugar pills that dissolve on a child’s tongue when the teeth started coming in. They were lifesavers so many times, when dealing with everything from sniffles to stomach aches. Guess what, the right ones can help with racing brains, too! Bach Flower Remedies are also wonderful non-drugs, and always help bring on the Zzzzs.
- Company. Although a child “should” be left alone to sleep in peace, having a big person there to model being quiet and calm helped Enzo relax. When self-regulation is difficult, having a body with a restful heartbeat and slow breathing nearby provides a neurological pattern to follow. Controlling conversation is the challenge…
- The “Broken Record” trick helped keep me from being drawn into conversation. I would only permit myself to say, “Today is over, it’s time to sleep.”
- Touch. Backrubs helped Enzo get in touch with his body. A story about the backrub helped him focus and relax. Favorites were the Weather Report (taught by Dr. Louise Hart), and the one about the cat that walked out and made tracks in the snow.
- Story Tapes. He listened to a recording of Winnie the Pooh (read by Peter Dennis) over and over and over again. It was long and calming and interesting but a little boring. We found one that worked, and he listened to it every night for four years!
Eventually I developed Mom’s Guaranteed Sleep System with Magic Stories™ that could both hold his interest and bore him to sleep. (Send $99 and two box tops in.)
And then one day he found late night radio and a talk show podcast that allegedly did the same thing. I love you but now get out of my room, Mom and Dad!
As a teenager, Enzo participated in a sleep study and got some sleep coaching, plus he’s gotten to know himself a little better. For example, he has also become a writer, and can relax better after doing a brain dump. But whatever he ends up doing with his busy brain, he may always be a night owl, wired to rev up when the rest of us are revving down.
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.
Updated on September 11, 2020