I get upset or happy I go to sleep.
Nothing hurts when I go to sleep.
But I'm not tired, I'm not tired."
-Ben Folds Five, Narcolepsy
I sighed and said, "No, just tell her to go to sleep."
"You know that's not how it works. She's got herself all stressed out again."
"I know," I said. "Love you."
And I did know. The fact that the mind of our oldest daughter sometimes races with a myriad of worries, at least those of a well-adjusted 10-year-old girl. Worries that swirl into a frothy mess of wide-awakeness.
Usually when we put both girls to bed, Beatrice falls asleep first. Most of the time she's out like a light by 8:00 pm. But our youngest Bryce can take a little longer to fall asleep, usually by 8:30 pm. While Bryce can still sometimes wake up and need some comfort to go back to sleep, Bea has been having more periodic stress sessions preventing her from going to sleep, sometimes for hours.
My wife, or the Mama as I lovingly call her, is usually the one to go comfort Bea, sometimes having to lay upstairs until Bea goes to sleep. The Mama will watch a show on her iPad with headphones, while I watch the same show downstairs, cutting into the Mama-Dad snuggle time.
The good news is that we've had a regular bedtime routine for a few years now. No more iPad after 6:00 pm, then TV goes off downstairs around 7:30 pm, then we go upstairs to brush teeth and change into pajamas, then we read with the girls, and/or sometimes they read to us, and then the fan in their room goes on, as it does in our room when we sleep. White noise is a special family sleep friend!
Then they go to sleep. Usually. Unless they're not feeling well, or Bea starts worrying about something -- school and homework, a song stuck in her head, friends she had played with earlier in the day, and probably many other pre-tween angst-ridden thoughts she can't or won't articulate. We've also had Bea listen to meditations and even take a little melatonin if she needs it. And we tell her to turn her bed lamp on and read a little if that helps.
Sleep science recommends adults get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and for children 7-12 years old it should be upwards of 10-11 hours of sleep each night. And when our girls go to sleep on time, they're usually getting 9-10 hours each night. The Mama and I get at least 7 hours each night, and we're thankful for that, unless we're having a rough night, or one of the girls are.
We've had our own sleep deprived wake-mares in the past, especially with Bryce. Up every hour, all night, until we went nearly went friggin' crazy. But that was years ago, and today it's just if one of the girls don't feel week, or the occasional stressed out wakefulness of Bea.
Usually it's the Mama who gets up and tries to get her back to sleep, but sometimes it's me. That's because the Mama has already fallen into deep sleep, and I'm restless. And when I'm restless I'm skittish and hear every creak and groan of the house, even with the fan on and the ear plugs in (yes, we've worn ear plugs for years at night).
And if one of the girls comes in our room because they're scared and/or don't feel well and/or can't sleep for whatever reason, it can scare the crap out of me. Sometimes I'll be laying on my side, eyes closed, and then someone touches my leg and I jump. Then I hear:
"Dad." If it's Beatrice.
Or, "Daddy." If it's Bryce.
Every single time I jump. Sometimes Bea tells us that she gets up and comes in our room and watches us, but doesn't wake us up. Super creepy, but we love her!
One night recently Bea came in our room, and then left, and then came in again. The Mama was sleeping away (if was after 10 and we go to bed between 9-9:30), but this time I wasn't scared, already not sleeping well and more than half awake. I got up with her and got her back into bed. I tried to get her to relax and rubbed her back.
"Dad, if I don't sleep, will I die?"
"No, sweetie. You won't die. Just try to relax."
"But I can't sleep; I don't want to die."
"You're not going to die."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Now, try to relax, and read again if you need to."
As parents, we sometimes have to sacrifice the sanctity of our own sweet sleep for the sake of our children. We're their guardian angels, no matter how strung out and tired we get. And strung out and tired we definitely get. God bless those who have children with much more going on than just occasional sleep issues. Whatever the issues are, it comes with the job and our reward (and the world's) is raising mentally healthy, well-adjusted humans. Amen.