Tension, tension, tension!

“All too frequently, your child’s reluctance to go to bed is actually a reflection of how her world is feeling at that moment. Sleep is very sensitive to our emotions. And while it is well documented that emotions can disrupt sleep for adults, what is not as well known is that they can also disturb the sleep of children–even infants. That’s because emotions ‘arouse’ the brain and body. As a result, our muscles tense, preparing us to take action.”

I just finished the section on tension triggers and it makes so, so much sense!

When did all this sleep/behavior trouble start? When Stephen and I decided that we were going to move among other things.

“It doesn’t have to be a traumatic event such as an accident or major illness to increase arousal and agitation for your cild. Getting lost in a store, being held down for a painful medical procedure, experiencing a bad storm, hearing a terrifying news story, or having a teacher or coach who yells and shames, can be enough to keep your child awake at night for days, even weeks… It can be difficult to know what will significantly upset a child. During the last six months, has your child or family experienced any painful or distressful event? The residue may be lingering in your child’s body, pushing her across the line into tense energy… Major changes can also pose a problem. A move, a new baby, a divorce are obvious creators of tension, but what may not be as obvious are the little changes that actually have a big impact on tension… which disrupts your entire family’s sense of order and predictability… Switching beds or bedrooms, going on a family vacation, the start or end of a school year, or even the shift to daylight savings time can impact your child.”

-Being held down for painful medical procedure? Check (shots)
-Moving… check
-Switching beds… check (we transitioned from the Pack N Play to her crib after the move)
-Switching bedrooms… check (we not only changed to a new bedroom in the move, but started having her sleep in her own room after the move)
-Family vacation… check (well a sort of one day only thing for my sisters graduation, but I noticed it had a huge impact)
-Daylight savings time… check.

“Anthropologist Mark Finn from the University of Missouri has been studying children living on a remote tropical island for more than thirteen years…What he discovered is that children’s (even infants’) stress levels peak when the key adults in their lives are stressed. What may seem inconsequential to adults–a fight between Mom and Dad, Grandma fretting about bills, or Mom leaving on a business trip–causes a child’s cortisol levels to rise… It appears that, without meaning to, you can communicate your stress to your child via your touch, voice tone, and gesture. When you slam the door, throw down the car keys, or yell, the force and tone convey to your child that something is amiss and that he needs to be on alert. Immediately, stress hormones are released into her body. Your stress also preoccupies you, making it less likely that you’ll pick up your child’s cues and respond patiently. The result is a child who feels more anxious and insecure and, as a result, fights to stay awake.”

I am horrible when it comes to masking and dealing with stress. I am sure I’ve transmitted how I’m feeling to Bean. I just tend to be a pretty emotional person in general. If I am worn out or stressed about the tiniest thing it is pretty obvious. Stephen is way better at this stuff, but then again not. He’ll say that he’s fine and not stressed, but I can tell. He does act different. He isn’t fine.

“Ironically, the less sleep your child has the more stress hormones his body releases to keep him going. If your child isn’t sleeping or behaving well, think back on the events of the week. Did you have to wake him from a nap? Did he skip a nap or stay up late for a special event? Did he spend a restless night in a hotel or at a slumber party? If these things occurred, you can assume that your child is experiencing high tension.”

When I run errands all day or the day is just really exciting because people are here and there is stuff going on, Bean often skips naps or doesn’t nap for very long. Consequently, she is sometimes harder to get to sleep and get her to stay asleep that night because she is so overtired and having a hard time shutting down.

“Lights, noise, crowds, and colors are all sensations that can stimulate the brain. Some children seem to easily block those sensations and drop off to sleep in the midst of them. Others get revved up and just can’t fall asleep. But high levels of stimulation are the norm for most families, and, as a result, it is easy to miss this as a cause… Do a life check. Did battery-operated toys arrive as gifts for your newborn? … Have you ever noticed that, after a day of shopping your child can’t sleep? Stop, look and listen. How many different sensations is your child’s brain trying to process at once? Does the stimulation level in your child’s life leave him cringing, too tight to sleep? If your child is especially sensitive to stimulation, it doesn’t mean that you should never go to an amusement park for fun, or a restaurant for dinner. It’s just a reminder that if his day has been filled with hours of television-watching, crowds of people, and a barrage of stimulation, it’s likely that he’ll need more help settling down for the night… Sometimes it’s the pace and sense of rushing that can be keeping your family awake. Even when you’ve been looking forward to the activities and thoroughly enjoy them, there’s a line where you and your child cross from calm into tense energy…  Often we become so accustomed to this level of tension that we are not even aware of it. Take special care to pay attention to the needs of a younger child who gets toted along… The stress of a too-busy life can get you and your child not only during the day, but at night as well. Recognizing this allows you to find the balance between a busy, yet satisfying day and one that leaves everyone in a frenzy.”

Bean is defnitely very easily stimulated by the world. When we are in public she deals with this by becoming quietly observant. However, she does start to dart her head around trying to take it all in. Sometimes even just Stephen’s presence is enough to send her over the edge of excitement and overstimulation. As I’m carrying her upstairs for a diaper change she’ll be in a frenzy to keep her eyes on him. If she hears his voice and he comes home during a nursing session I can just throw in the towel because there will be no use trying to keep her attention on the task at hand. Papa is just too exciting. This is one reason I am so glad we don’t have cable or the ability to watch TV right now. I think we would have even more problems.

“Pschologist Tom Anders found in his studies that children nine to fourteen months old wake more frequently than six-month-old infants. The reason, he believes, is the huge surge in physical devopment at this stage. It’s during this period of nine to fourteen months that most tiny toddlers begin to pull themselves up to standing, and begin walking. The joy of these new skills raises arousal levels and so enthralls the child that even in the middle of the night he wants to practice… So, if your child is waking in the night or battling to stay up, ask yourself, is she within six weeks of her birthday or half birthday when growth spurts tend to occur? Or have you noticed any significant change in her skills?… What skills is your child working on right now? What is he able to do that he couldn’t do six months ago? The quest to grow may be keeping him aroused.”

Yes, yes and yes. Stephen and I have come into Bean’s room in the middle of the night to find her trying to sit up, crawl, roll over and pull herself up onto the side of the crib. The other night she was saying “Ma ma ma” a bunch in her sleep. During the day her new discoveries are often a huge source of tension in her little body, especially when she can’t quite get to or do the thing that she wants.

So often though I’ve just been frustrated. I take her attitude personally as if she can somehow control it. Instead of seeing things through her perspective. This new exciting world to her. Each day it seems she discovers a new toy, finds a new way to do something.

“When you are able to tune into the ‘culprits’ that are creating tense energy in your child’s life, you won’t feel so out of control. As a result, you’ll respond more empathaetically, recognizing that your child is not trying to be difficult. Your awareness will also allow you to be kinder to yourself. You are not a bad or ineffective parent. It’s tension that is keepig your child on alert, unable to sleep and acting up. The ‘force’ is no longer invisible. It’s concrete and manageable, and you are now ready to take the steps to reduce it, so that everyone can sleep.”

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3 Comments

Filed under Family, Literary Love, Parenting

3 responses to “Tension, tension, tension!

  1. It seems that this book is really helping you to get in tune with what’s going on in your environment and how it impacts yourself and Bean. That’s great!

  2. Yep, yep, yep! Our days are always changing, so I gave up on a strict schedule long ago. It’s just easier to follow baby’s lead. Some are more sensitive than others. Some cope by going to sleep when they’re overwhelmed — others can’t sleep at all because of the same thing.

    My (one) friend who is religious about sleep schedules (not during the newborn phase) is also religious about limiting commotion in general. Not that it’s possible to control everything, but she doesn’t get involved in anything that would affect their schedule directly, especially the first year or two. Even so, her kids are the type to cope by sleeping. Her efforts would go wasted on my kids!!

  3. crystal

    I need to get that book. Ella’s sleep the last week has atrocious and I know it’s b/c she’s trying to crawl, but I’m dead on my feet.

    I love your blog 🙂

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