Jan 13, 2014  2 Comments

Why can’t my child sleep?

By Dror Schneider and Sindy Wilkinson Do you recognize your child in any of the following? • has a hard time falling asleep (and you’ve tried with or without gentle music, with or without a night light, with or without open windows, pillows, teddy bears, heavy blankets, light blankets, white noise, a bed-time snack... anything else? Oh yes, your child can fall asleep only when you’re lying next to him for an hour or two • has a hard time staying asleep • falls out of bed often • has a very restless sleep, and moves around in bed a lot • sleep-walks What is going on? There are many possibilities, and no, they’re not doing this with the intention of being difficult or getting attention. What’s often getting in the way is a poor sense of body in space, also known as proprioception. Let’s see how this works. How could a child not know where their body is in space? “I know where my body is in space,” you may say. “I’m right here, sitting on this swivel chair in front of my computer, leaning back, with my toes touching the carpet and my heels peeking out of my slippers, my wrists at the keyboard... etc.” But think of a time you were in a situation like this one. Here I am, getting on a crowded bus, with a large backpack on my back. I try, rather carefully, to walk through the bus, but every time I move, someone gets whacked by my backpack. I didn’t do it intentionally, of course! But as I plan my moves through the bus, I don’t have a good sense of where this extension of my body, this backpack, is. Sometimes a child doesn’t need an extension to not be fully aware of where his or her body is. The internal monitor that tells this just doesn’t give clear information the child can use. So they have to figure out where they are somehow. When children have a poor sense of body in space, here’s what often happens: • They are clumsy, tripping over their own feet (where did those come from?) • They refuse to do anything with their eyes closed (because then they would be floating with no grounding at all). They may feel good about running into other people or into the wall, since bumping gives them feedback about their boundaries. Too bad that their friends may not like it, and grandma finds it absolutely horrifying when she’s the target! • They like to snuggle a lot, or they seem clingy, or they can’t fall asleep unless another person is right next to their bodies. The presence of this other person gives them, again, a sense of where they are in space. • They don’t do well with team sports – they seem to have a very poor sense of where everybody is or is going to. And what about sleeping? Why does poor proprioception affect sleeping so drastically? If you don’t know where you are in space without your eyes open and monitoring where you are, then closing your eyes and letting go of control creates the experience of floating, fear, and lack of safety. It is therefore resisted unless certain parameters are met to ensure protection and security. What can be done? Well, sometime what works is a heavy blanket, tucked under the mattress so that it presses down on the body; sometimes what works is a bunch of pillows in bed; a night light helps in some cases - because the dark is so disorienting. Some kids do much better with massage at bedtime, because it can be calming and also provide a lot of input regarding where the body is. What can also help is specific activities to integrate and stimulate the proprioceptive system so the child does not need to rely on the outside world, but instead can depend on his/her internal sensation for orientation and safety. Sindy Wilkinson, M.Ed, LMFT, CHP and Dror Schneider, CHP are Certified HANDLE Practitioners and Instructors practicing in the Bay Area. For more information and to contact Sindy or Dror, see: www.learningandgrowth.com www.handlebythebay.com