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Hypnotherapy for Parents Who Are Up All Night
by Stephanie Jourdan, Ph.D.

Are you an exhausted parent because your child refuses to go to bed ... has insomnia ... night terrors ... enuresis ... head banging ... sleepwalking?

Have you been inundated with well-intentioned advice? Presumably, your child has been diagnosed by a physician and the sleep disorder is clearly behavioral and not due to a physical dysfunction.

Hypnotherapy treats the problem as a family systems issue. Suggestions are given to hypnotized parents that they are now aware of the first steps to take to establish new routines and schedules. Both parents are hypnotized simultaneously after a family plan has been discussed. The problem is not a matter of poor parenting ... sleep disorders are very common.

Amazingly, researchers still do not fully understand why people need to sleep and what purpose sleep serves. They do know that sleep does serve some restorative function and is mandatory for normal, daily functioning.

Researchers had always thought that sleep was a single state that was completely different from an awake state. Now we know that sleep itself is divided into two different states: REM (more active, dream state) and non-REM (when the sleeper lies quietly).

After the earliest months of life, non-REM sleep divides into four stages of its own that represent progressively deeper levels. These stages can be identified by monitoring brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tone on a polygraph.

As you begin to fall asleep, you enter Stage I, the state of drowsiness as your awareness of the external world begins to diminish.

As you continue to deepen, you transition into Stage II of a fully established non-REM sleep. Short bursts of very rapid activity called sleep spindles, and large, slow waves called K-complexes, begin to appear. Someone could easily awaken you at this stage, but you might not believe that you had been asleep.

As you fall more deeply asleep, you enter Stage III and finally Stage IV. The smaller and faster brain waves of light sleep and waking disappear and your brain waves now show predominantly large, very slow delta waves. Your breathing and heart rate become very stable. You may sweat profusely, and you will be very difficult to awaken. However, if the stimulus is important enough, you would awaken, so it seems that even in the deepest Stage IV sleep, our minds can still process some outside information. We would probably awaken somewhat confused. 

The difficultly in making the transition from Stage IV non-REM sleep to alert waking is very significant in several sleep disorders in children, such as sleep terrors, thrashing, enuresis (bedwetting), and sleepwalking.

After one or two cycles in non-REM sleep, you will enter REM sleep, a different state entirely. Both breathing and heart rate become irregular. Your reflexes, kidney function, and patterns of hormone release change. Temperature regulation is impaired, and so you will not sweat or shiver. REM sleep requires more oxygen ... you are expending more energy. There is more blood flow to the brain, its temperature increases, and your brain waves will become quite busy, resembling a mixture of waking and drowsy patterns. The mind now "wakes," but the wakefulness of the dream state is quite different from that of being truly awake. You primarily respond to signals originating within your own body instead of from the outer world. The strange dream world seems quite normal and acceptable.

During this state, you have very poor muscle tone, especially in the head and neck, where you become extremely relaxed. Nerve impulses that otherwise would pass down the spinal cord and out to the muscles are blocked within the spinal cord, so that much of your body is effectively paralyzed. Signals to move may still be sent out from your brain, but they do not get through to your muscles. The only muscles spared are those controlling eye movements, respiration, and hearing. Because the blockade is not complete, some of the stronger signals will get through to the muscles, leading to frequent small twitches of the hands, legs or face. So although REM sleep is very active in terms of metabolic and brain function, you remain fairly still.

One theory suggests that, over the course of evolution, REM sleep was an intermediate state between non-REM and waking in which the mind would wake up before being connected to the body. This would allow an animal to go to sleep and obtain the restorative value of non-REM sleep. In this state, with no movement and regular breathing, it would be safe from predators. A sudden waking from non-REM, however, would leave the animal confused and subject to attack. By switching first into REM sleep, its brain could become more alert, but still disconnected from the muscles to prevent any movement that might alert a predator. Once the animal was sufficiently alert, it would fully awaken, the muscle paralysis would disappear, and it could react appropriately to the danger.

This checking for danger may still be relevant in humans. We all tend to wake up briefly after an episode of dreaming. At this time, we will notice whether something seems amiss in our environment, i.e., the smell of smoke, sound of footsteps or crying, etc. If all seems well, we simply return to sleep and usually do not remember this waking in the morning. Many young children, however, can not fall asleep quickly after these normal arousals because something seems wrong to them. An example is the child wakes up in a crib after falling asleep while being held. The brain registers a change that does not make sense.

There is evidence that sleep patterns begin to develop in babies en utero. REM sleep appears in the fetus at about six months? gestation and non-REM sleep between seven and eight months.

A newborn sleeps approximately 16 to 17 hours every day, but only a few hours at a time. By the age of three or four months, the baby sleeps about 15 hours a day and is broken down into four or five sleep times. By six months, nearly all infants have settled down into a continuous nighttime sleep for about 12 hours, plus a daytime nap of an hour or two. Most children still sleep 14 hours a day at a year old, but it dwindles down to 11 or 12 hours by two years old. The afternoon nap generally continues until about age three. From age three to adolescence, children need less and less sleep, rarely napping post toddler phase, sleeping a total of about ten hours. Teenagers sleeps about seven to eight hours, but this is considered a result of academic and social pressures more than a reduction in need. Of course these figures are overly generalized.

When it comes to nightly bedtime routine, keep in mind that a pleasant bedtime ritual creates a happy association for the child. She looks forward to going to bed and sleeping instead of becoming fussy.

Remember that bedtime for your child means separation from you. He needs cozy, personal time from the parent. Of course you feel frustrated. The key to good sleep patterns for your child is creating positive, happy associations for your child as he falls asleep. 

A hypnotherapist can offer you suggestions that the sleep you do get is deeply refreshing, enabling you to awaken as needed during the night to help recreate the positive bedtime rituals so that your child can return to sleep. This may mean holding, rocking, back rubbing, singing, talking, etc. until he falls back to sleep. You can also be given a suggestion that every time your child cries or calls out during the night, it is a pleasure for you to give the child what he needs to feel safe and secure. It is easy to give in this way because whatever sleep you have already gotten seems enough.

Most of us as adults have forgotten how important it is to have just the right bedtime ritual. It becomes most apparent to us when any of those factors is altered by sleeping away from home. We need our pillow that is just the right softness or fluffiness and our mattress that is just the right firmness. We need our side of the bed, our blankets, our usual sounds, ventilation, and temperature. If our senses are picking up different smells, sounds, textures or air movements, we can not let go because our mind is busy registering the differences.

Imagine falling asleep on your pillow only to awaken with your face against the mattress because your pillow is missing. You would want your pillow back. But what if it was not just a matter of reaching for it and repositioning it again. What if you were somehow powerless to retrieve it. You would call out for help. You can imagine how this would feel if you were a baby.

Often the problem is that the usual bedtime ritual or happy sleep associations that work for your child are no longer workable for you. Maybe your child is too big to hold and rock while standing. Or maybe your family dog that slept on his bed has passed away and the new puppy does not settle in. Maybe your child needs a new set of positive, happy bedtime associations. You need to choose what ritual can be realistically practiced with consistency. If your child is old enough, you may want to talk about it with your child. Once the new routine has been decided upon, hypnosis can be used to send any of the following suggestions into your subconscious mind:

It is easy for you to be patient while your child learns new, happy, bedtime associations. 

Every minute of your own sleep renews and replenishes your body, mind and spirit.

Your wisdom and love for your child keeps your emotions even.

Giving your child what he needs gives you what you need.

You easily stay focused on what is important, allowing you to maintain regular meal and nap times.

You are able to immediately fall back to sleep whenever you return to your bed at any time during the night or early morning.

It is easy for you to adapt to the sleep routines of being a parent.

When your child whines, it is easy for you to remember that this is his way of asking for closeness.

You can trust your own wisdom regarding what is best for your child.

Make sure that your expectations are realistic. Is it possible that you are putting your child to bed before his natural bedtime? If so, that may be why he is having a hard time going to sleep. If you were encouraged to take extra long naps during the day, you too would have a hard time falling asleep at your normal bedtime. If you were awakened before your normal waking time to meet the schedule of another person, you too would feel groggy and unable to move quickly to get dressed and ready to leave.

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