Friday, March 27, 2009

Terrors and Temporary Insanity

Every night at 7pm (give or take maybe 30 seconds), Nathan goes to sleep for the night. The routine is simple. We pick him up and give him his blanket. He holds it to his face, plugs his thumb in his mouth, and waits for us to put him in his crib. Within minutes of hitting the mattress he is typically sound asleep. Staying asleep, on the other hand, has never been the boy's forte. On a good night he wakes up at ten and two wanting milk. Then he starts the day when the sun rises at five or six. This is a good night. (I don't actually remember the last time this happened.) Usually he is up every two or three hours, and occasionally he wants to start his day as early as four. I heard recently about something called "sleep debt." If such a thing exists, I am clearly in the red!

I didn't think matters could get much worse until a week or so ago. Every now and then over the course of the past six months Nathan has woken up completely frantic and inconsolable. It didn't happen very often and there didn't seem to be any reason for it, so I decided not to worry. Then it started happening several times a week, then every night, and now multiple times a night. I finally took him to the doctor yesterday. Nathan, of course, decided it was a good opportunity to entertain the entire waiting room by handing out books from the book rack and giggling hysterically. One mother with an obviously sick baby asked, "What is the matter with him?" I wasn't entirely certain what the question implied, but I answered, "Apparently nothing at the moment."

In the examining room, Nathan explored the alphabet floor mat for all of ten seconds before he discovered a little stool. He scooted it closer to the examining table and made every effort to climb up. When I decided this wasn't the best plan, he complied by crouching down under the head of the table and pulling a lever of some sort. At one point, Nathan very sweetly gave the doctor a book he had purloined from somewhere. The doctor, looking bemused, asked, "So, what is the matter with him?"

"This may sound silly," I replied, "but he won't sleep."

The doctor just smiled and I wished for a moment that the floor would open up to swallow me and my troublesome child (or maybe just the child). After a thorough discussion and a not-very-thorough examination. Nathan was diagnosed with "insomnia." Ironically the cause for his insomnia is "sleep terrors." I googled it after I got home, and found the following grocery list of symptoms (click here for the original article if you are remotely interested):
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Sweating, shaking, and fast breathing
  • A terrified, confused, and glassy-eyed appearance
  • Thrashing around, screaming, kicking, or staring
  • Child may not realize anyone is with him
  • Child may not appear to recognize you
  • Child may try to push you away, especially when you try to restrain him
Check... check.... check... Sounds like an accurate diagnosis. The bad news is that we can do nothing for him, except do nothing. Since Nathan isn't actually awake when he is having these "terrors," it isn't helpful to hold him or to try to comfort him. In fact, it makes the situation worse. The good news is that he is in the deepest part of sleep when this happens and has no recollection of it in the morning. This is why I say "insomnia" is ironic. Maybe the diagnosis was actually for Nathan's parents.

While I was googling "sleep terrors," I wandered to a page or two about sleep deprivation. Who knew missing sleep could result in such things as slurred speech, inability to form complete thoughts or think creatively, blurred vision, and even (according to one college student in a Psychology 101 research paper) "temporary insanity." Ah, finally an explanation for all my woes! My child is terrified and I am temporarily insane. For now I'm clinging to the "temporary" part of all that.


  1. in our prayers

  2. Yes, prayers for you. I was plagued by something similar for years until it finally went away on its own. Parenthood is much like life, I think. Plenty of ups and downs, and a lot to keep us busy.

    Hoping he starts sleeping better soon...

  3. Thank you, Paul, Billy, and others, for praying. The past two nights have been a bit better. I always find it hard to be "reduced" to prayer. I'm ashamed to admit that I often try everything else first and sometimes persist in my efforts hoping I can stumble upon something God missed. It's always good (and hard) to be reminded that I can do nothing without him.