Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sleep Deprivation

Will isn't sleeping. Again. We always seem to go through phases with him and before the time change, we had a run of at least a month where he slept from bedtime right through until about 6 o'clock. The time changes have always affected my boys, particularly so with Will. This move to Calgary has only enhanced the difficulty in this transition. It's only late May and the days are getting longer and longer. It isn't dark until 10:30pm which means Will won't sleep. There are darkening shades, a pull-down shade and a curtain on his window but it makes no difference. Something in his brain tells him it's light out and he won't sleep. Bedtimes are becoming more and more difficult because he is fighting it all the way - somersaulting across his bed to kick his heels into the wall, jumping off his dresser, standing in his windowsill, all while yelling the whole time. Not fun.

Lack of sleep for Will means a miserable, moody, inattentive, sleepy little boy all day long. The tantrums have come back and their intensity has kicked up several notches. He bursts into tears for no apparent reason and gets lost in his stimming when he should be attending to task. All behaviours to be expected when you're sleepy.

So off to his pediatrician yesterday. The result was the doctor's recommendation that we try putting Will on Melatonin.

---and here I decided to put aside my laptop and go to bed. It's now four days later that I finish this post---

So here is the scoop on Melatonin:

According to Newsweek® magazine -

"Melatonin is the all-natural nightcap. It's secreted by the pineal gland, a pea-size structure at the center of the brain, as our eyes register the fall of darkness.

"At night melatonin is produced to help our bodies regulate our sleep-wake cycles. The amount of it produced by our body seems to lessen as we get older. Scientists believe this may be why young people have less problem sleeping than older people.

"Studies suggest that... supplements can hasten sleep and ease jet lag, without the hazards or side effects of prescription sleeping pills."

It may have many other uses and has been reported to make people feel better, strengthen the immune system, and reduce free radicals in the body. Current research is underway to determine its effect as an anti-oxidant, immno-modulator in cancer, delayed sleep-phase disorders, and jet lag. Tests are still under way so there is much to still be learned about it and its effects on the human body. Travelers and people suffering from mild sleep disorders.

According to the article, a typical comment from discussion groups on the Internet is, "'Folks, I've tried it and it's great. It has ...restored my sleep cycle, given me lots of energy.'" (6 Nov. 1995, p. 60-63)


The Melatonin signal forms part of the system that regulates the circadian cycle, but it is the CNS that controls the daily cycle in most components of the paracrine and endocrine systems[8][9] rather than the melatonin signal (as was once postulated).

Nobel Prize laureate Julius Axelrod performed many of the seminal experiments that elucidated the role of melatonin and the pineal gland in regulating sleep-wake cycles (circadian rhythms). In humans, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, a gland about the size of a pea, that is located in the center of the brain, on the dorsal surface of diencephalon.

Normally, the production of melatonin by the pineal gland is inhibited by light and permitted by darkness. For this reason melatonin has been called "the hormone of darkness". The secretion of melatonin peaks in the middle of the night, and gradually falls during the second half of the night. Until recent history, humans in temperate climates were exposed to up to eighteen hours of darkness in the winter. In this modern world, artificial lighting typically reduces this to eight hours or less per day all year round. Even low light levels inhibit melatonin production to some extent, but over-illumination can create significant reduction in melatonin production. Reduced melatonin production has been proposed as a likely factor in the significantly higher cancer rates in night workers,[10] and the effect of modern lighting practice on endogenous melatonin has been proposed as a contributory factor to the larger overall incidence of some cancers in the developed world.[11] As inadequate as blood concentrations may be in brightly-lit environments, some scientists now believe that people's overnight output of melatonin can be further jeopardized each time they interrupt their sleep and turn on a bright light (suggesting that the lower brightness level of a nightlight would be safer). Others suggest that such short exposures do no harm.[12]

So the long and the short of it is that as of last Thursday night, we have been giving Will the melatonin supplement every evening, an hour before Will's bedtime. It's an over-the-counter supplement and Jonathan picked it up in the form of a chocolate-flavoured strip that dissolves on the tongue. The first couple of nights were a total battle and Will kicked and punched while we tried to keep it in his mouth. His exhaustion and lack of sleep were at its peak and Will konked out early both nights, but was up by 1am and was wide awake to start his day. Brutal.

You can see in this video of the boys' music class that Will can hardly keep it together

The last two nights have been a little better. I managed to get the whole strip to dissolve, Will fell asleep at a decent hour, but he has still been waking up sometime between 4:30am and 6am. Not as bad as 1am, but still not a great night sleep for Mom and Dad. At least Will seems to be coming back to his old self. His staff say that he was "on" throughout the day and was able to focus and attend to task.

Here's a scary glimpse of what it is like to live with the fear that Will's sleeping habits put on us all. We have installed a security system in the house. Not to keep burglars OUT, but to keep Will IN. There are alarms/chimes on all the exterior doors and we also installed one on Will's bedroom door. Each time the doors open, the chimes go off and the idea is that Jonathan or I should hear and know when Will is out of his room or if he has opened a door to outside. The problem of late is that we are soooo tired from our own lack of sleep that we are somehow sleeping through the sound of the alarm going off. So we are not exactly sure what time Will has been getting up in the morning. We get up to find Will's trail of destruction throughout the house and we can tell he's been up for ages. This morning I heard the chime sound just before 7am. I hollered to Will and he scooted into our room and hopped into bed with us (so cute too because he crawls right in the middle and pulls the blankets up under his chin, then checks to make sure that Jonathan and I both have our blankets pulled up as well). I was thrilled because I thought that he had slept through the night and he was in a great mood. Michelle burst into our room looking for Will. She had just woken up to find the main floor freezing cold and our back door wide open- the wind blowing in. Michelle ran outside to find that the side gate was also open, which means if Will had run out, he was long gone. We all know now that Will was tucked in safely under my covers, but you can imagine Michelle's panic. Yes, Will's safe. But at some point in the night.. or in the morning.. he was up and on the loose. I don't want to think about it anymore.

So that's that. Tonight is a new night and we'll see what happens. Wish us luck!

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