Children’s Sleep Project

Because we all need a good night’s rest.

Breathe Deep to Cope with Kids Not Sleeping

May 08, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping

Our toddler has had trouble sleeping since he was born.

Though his struggle isn’t fully resolved, it’s a good sight better than it was six months ago, a year ago, two years ago.

Nevertheless, some nights are still so difficult that it takes all my emotional reserves just to get through bedtime.

These are the nights that I do deep breathing.

Inhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Exhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Inhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Exhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) …

And so on. It helps me relax, remember what’s important and quiet my energy.

There’s a wonderful, if small, study by Dr. Sears that suggests that babies sync their breathing to their mothers’. After I read it, I started paying attention to what happened to our child’s breath when I remembered to breathe deep during frustrating nights.

It was true! It was especially noticeable when the Dragon was younger, the most dramatic example being when he first came home from NICU. At night, we put him in a bouncy-seat next to our bed, but his breathing was ragged and labored and kept everyone awake. As soon as we brought him into bed with us, his breath evened out and quieted down.

But I even notice it now, if more on an energetic level than a physical one. When I’m agitated, the Dragon’s energy is equally wired. The more wired he gets, the more anxious I get. I snap at him and treat him harshly; he fragments a bit and gets needier. It’s like he’s searching for the thing I’m supposed to be giving him but can’t in that moment.

It’s hard to change course in the middle of a dynamic like this, when we’re both attached to our anger and frustration. Deep breathing makes it much easier. It’s hard to be agitated, upset or short with someone you love when you’re inhaling slowly, exhaling slowly, inhaling slowly, exhaling slowly. (Though a cautionary note: Deep breathing can easily slide into heavy breathing that communicates anger. Awareness is important!)

Without a word (or perhaps with one or two to soothe both of us back into alignment), deepening my breath turns the tide of the evening. It might take just as long for the Dragon to fall asleep as it would have with all the agita. But at least, when he does, he’s drifting off on a feeling of being connected and supported, not one of anger and isolation.

And I’m able to enjoy the rest of the evening without guilt, regret or the need to “come down” from another frustrating bedtime.

(Photo credit)

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