Hey Mom, Are You Awake?


My friend, Carrie, recently shared some thoughts on a FB group about helping her children from “hard places” sleep. Sleep is a problem for me and has been a huge challenge for some of my children, so this grabbed my attention. I asked her if I could share this information with you.  Maybe you’ll find something helpful here for your family.

Sleep! Over the last 6 years as our family has grown through adoption, I’ve pondered how that one small word could hold such deep, wide and consuming thoughts in my mind? Up until a few weeks ago, bed time for our 3 youngest was 7:30 with 5 mg melatonin. The problem was that we had a consistent issue of one or more of them waking up between 1:00-2:00, possibly stirring because of a need to go potty, or hearing others stir, and then waking up.

The kids would turn on EVERY LIGHT when they woke up. This seemed to reset their internal senses to tell their brains “it’s time to be up.”  Then they would get back into bed, or I should say I got them back into bed, but they would struggle falling back to sleep or staying asleep. They ended up being AWAKE and ready for the day at 4:30.

My frustration stemmed from the fact that it didn’t matter if we put them to bed at 7:30 or 10:30, they would still get up at 4:30-5:00, with the only variable being that if we put them to bed at 10:30 we didn’t get the 1:00 wake up insanity. During a Dr visit with one of our kiddo’s specialists, I shared again the ongoing sleep issues and she began to educate me. As she talked I started thinking to myself “maybe ignorance is bliss!” I could feel those hairs on the back of my neck raise up like a parrot whose neck feathers are about to puff out!! I knew I wasn’t going to like where this conversation ended up as she used words like “stay up later!”

Didn’t she realize that fully present parenting is pouring myself out all day, and 7:30 is a sacred time on the clock? It’s a countdown to mommy fill up and recoup time. But as I listened to her, I realized this key point: 9:00 is the latest I want to get my kids into bed because of their internal clocks. It starts winding down as the sun goes down so the rest-restorative sleep to help organs and bodies replenish starts in that first REM cycle.

The Dr explained that there are two REM cycles. Our kids were sleeping soundly from 7:30-1:00 and as the cycles did their thing, our kids were stirring, waking up just enough to be alert and then the madness would begin.

In light of this, we’ve taught them some new strategies.

1. ONLY use their night lights, No turning lights on to go potty.

2. No toys or books when they get back into bed.

3. Do 10 belly breaths and lay still so their bodies can catch that 2nd Rem cycle BEFORE their internal senses are wide awake.

4. Basically, be as quiet as a mouse and tiptoe through a very dim room if needed.

I can proudly say that after a few weeks of putting them to bed at 9:00, They are sleeping from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am about 70% of the time, with no potty breaks or getting up. I think we are catching that second rem cycle. My feathers have smoothed down with only an occasional one or two rebels that pop out as I hear kids playing /arguing at 8:00 in the evening, and I selfishly roll the thoughts of 7:30 bed times around in my head. Then I remind myself that I’m getting two more hours of sleep in the morning now and I’m okay.

I don’t have the scientific data behind what the doc was saying, but kids from hard places, who are often hypervigilant, are very easily aroused into an awake state, so knowing how the body sleeps is important. It’s still a learning curve for sure, but I think we are catching a new rhythm.

Change is never easy for my kids who need stable routine, but I can say that this change was easy and good for them; it was me and my attitude that took some time to adapt! Sweet dreams to all of your hard working moms and dads!! As my mom used to say “go to bed fast and sleep slow”

Question: Do you or your kids have sleep issues?  What seems to help at your house?


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Julie Blair Pitts
    October 24, 2013

    we use melatonin and a weighted blanket for our sleep issue child. since the intro of the weighted blanket, he sleeps all night long unless there is a storm and he hears it. we have a consistent bedtime and he now wakes up on time most days. hope this helps!!

  2. Debbie
    October 24, 2013

    We don't have a problem with sleeping through the night anymore, but getting to sleep is another story. One of my daughter's has a lot of anxiety at bedtime. We have found that rubbing her back for about 15 minutes is very helpful. But I would love to hear other's ideas on this!

  3. Kimberly
    October 24, 2013

    No but when my son came home he screamed an cried every 20 minutes like he was being flayed and murdered. Usually it was something like his blanket was not up far enough. Everyone sleeps pretty well now. My three littles are 6 and younger so we have an 8 bedtime and it takes about 1/2 hour for the older two to wind down to sleep. They sleep until 7 am.

  4. Anonymous
    October 24, 2013

    Melatonin helps, so does a really dark room and some background noise. I've had insomnia since I was a child and I can't stress enough that if the issue doesn't go away on its own fairly soon then the kids need help from a sleep specialist (maybe even medication, certainly not just perky advice to go to bed later). Kids don't show exhaustion the way adults do, but it affects everything – school, relationships, self esteem.

  5. Pam
    October 25, 2013

    My son didn't start sleeping better until we started seeing an upper cervical chiropractor. Melatonin can actually make the sleep cycle worse. We still use it somewhat but not every night like we used to. Cleaning up diet can help some. Having said that, it's not perfect here….but it is better. He still usually ends up in our room before the night is over (on a mattress on the floor), but at least he is sleeping there instead of awake from 2 a.m. on. 🙁

  6. sixbloggingsisters
    October 26, 2013

    I managed to beat down both severe insomnia and a long-standing anxiety problem with cognitive-behavioral therapy (assisted somewhat by magnesium supplements and a good chiropractor). Provided there is no medical cause for the sleep issue, it's definitely worth looking into, though it's not an easy road. I'll definitely be praying for you and the children; insomnia is no picnic and it breaks my heart to see someone else experiencing the same nightmare that I had to live through.

  7. SleepyKnitter
    October 27, 2013

    Bedtime used to be very unhappy, the worst part of the day. I vividly remember one summer night just over a year ago in which all of our children were on our bed crying — wailing!– all at once, and there was nothing I could do about it. But that fall we completely changed our bedtime routine. We totally dropped the enforced midday naptime/quiet time (oh, how I miss it!), set a specific bedtime that we required for every child (instead of staggered bedtimes based on age), gave each child 3 mg of Melatonin 20 minutes before we wanted them to be asleep (previously we hadn’t used Melatonin with all the children), involved both Mommy and Daddy in the regular bedtime routine (instead of just one parent), read one chapter from the Bible and one fun story/picture book (instead of the long chapters from Little House or Narnia that we had been reading), and also included another, made-up story after lights out (instead of our just walking out of the room), and we began insisting on “mouths quiet” after lights out (instead of the chit chat that we used to allow, thinking we were giving the kids time to wind down). We also put all the children in the same large but now crowded bedroom instead of trying to have separate bedrooms (with separate bedtime routines), and we put in a twin bed for one parent to “sleep” in until all the children fell asleep (usually about five minutes). Literally in one night’s time, these changes took us from years of chaos to instant peace — I am still amazed nearly one year later at how instantly our children adjusted to these changes and how well the changes have worked. Most of these were suggestions from my social networking support group. Our kids had needed routine, consistency, the security of “family fellowship”, and Melatonin. Thank You, Jesus!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 28, 2013

      So many great ideas here!

      1. Anonymous
        October 28, 2013

        My son has always had a hard time winding down, no matter what time it is. He is definitely the classic definition of a night owl. We give him melatonin, and it helps. I am worried about using it long term, though. Those of you who use it, have you used it for months, years? What do the sleep doctors advise regarding this long term use?


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