Sleep – or lack thereof – can be the first indicator that you have a gifted child on your hands. While your friends’ babies are sleeping through the night at 6 months and taking long naps several times a day, your baby is wide awake and ready to play. By a year they might be sleeping through the night, but are up at 5am to start the day. You read all the books, tried crying it out, co-sleeping, white noise, sleep sacks, aromatherapy. You put them to bed at 6pm because someone said they’re overtired and need to go to bed early. You keep them up later because someone said they’re not tired enough. And naps? You’ll spend an hour trying to get them to sleep only for them to wake up after 30 minutes.
My oldest daughter has been home for a solid week with mono. The only thing she’s supposed to be doing is resting and sleeping. Sounds easy enough right? She’s exhausted, bored, and her bed is a cozy oasis. Sleeping should be a no-brainer. But for her it isn’t.
This week has me remembering her days as a non-sleeping baby and toddler (a time I had tried to forget). As a newborn she was awake every two hours like clockwork, and incredibly alert. She never wanted to be tucked into a wrap or carrier but was happy in the bouncy seat watching everything happen. I had the sense that she was worried she’d miss out on something if she closed her eyes. When she napped it was in 20 minute bites. As she got older she would wake early, nap for 45 minutes (if I was lucky), and stay up much later than the books said she should. By 18 months, she had given up the nap completely. I spent months trying to get her to sleep like my friend’s toddlers did: luxurious 2-3 hour naps, asleep by 7:30pm. Pediatricians told me I had to ‘make her nap’, other moms looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern. It took me a while to realize that she just didn’t need to sleep as much as her peers. I stopped fighting it and went with her schedule, resulting in less stress on everyone.
Kids Health (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/naps.html) says that most 3-5 year olds should be sleeping 11-12 hours at night with a 2 hour nap during the day, but goes on to add a helpful list of signs that your child isn’t sleeping enough. We’re often made to feel like bad parents because our kids don’t sleep like other kids, but are they cranky, hard to wake up, inattentive, aggressive, unfocused? For the most part, nope. They’re alert and ready to go. The simple fact is that gifted kids need less sleep than their age mates. It took me a while to realize this and stop fighting the nap battle, and when I gave up we were all much happier and less stressed. She enjoyed sitting in her room with her books which was enough of a break for both of us.
As my daughter got older, there were many expectations we had to shift: she stopped napping at 18 months, was a ‘night owl’ who liked to stay up late but would also sleep in, she needed a fair amount of alone time to settle in to sleep. It also started getting harder to get her to sleep. She would want to have long, meaningful conversations about things like global warming, animal extinction, and homelessness. She would stay awake for hours saying she ‘couldn’t turn off her brain’.
This is a common complaint among gifted kids, and even gifted adults. Their brains are going all day and can be hard to turn off. Their anxieties and worries can creep in during this time, leading to a spiral of hard conversations and blurry eyes.
Getting into a healthy sleep routine means different things for each child, especially for gifted children. It can be a frustrating and long process to figure out what works for your family, but eventually everyone sleeps through the night!
Here are some ideas for helping gifted kids fall asleep. Post in the comments if you have any ideas that have worked for your family!
For younger kids:
- Make a ‘calm down jar’ for them to focus on. They turn it over and breathe deeply as the glitter/items fall to the ground. https://www.therealisticmama.com/11-awesome-calm-down-jars/
- Something like the Dodow (https://getdodow.io/offer-01/?gucurrency=usd&gucountry=us&gulanguage=en&guu=d92e3584-ebca-4e58-bf26-ab9448188cd7&lpid=935&utm_source=8245&utm_medium=1&utm_term=27042&utm_content=1410&utm_campaign=GU&aff_id=8245&camp_id=27042&sub_id=1&req_id=335312068&contract_id=820&oid=512&guvertical=42) gives kids a guide to deep breathing and something to focus on through a soothing light.
- Guided meditation can be enormously helpful in quieting the mind.
- Sleep sheep is cuddly and portable: https://www.amazon.com/Cloud-Sleep-Sheep-White-Machine/dp/B00IABHYV4?th=1
- Have them play a listing game in their heads. For example, for each letter of the alphabet name a food. This can keep their mind busy while ‘counting down’.
- Set a time limit – if your child has a lot of worries at bedtime, give them 5 minutes (or 10, etc) and just listen to anything they want to say. It’s not a time to solve problems, but show them that you hear them and their worries/fears/ideas are important to you too.
For older kids:
- Listen to soothing music, an audiobook, or a podcast. For some kids this is too much stimulation, but it helps take their minds off of issues which are upsetting.
- Keep a notebook by their bed to write in. Part of the stress and anxiety of big global issues for kids is that they feel powerless to do anything. Have them write down issues they’re worried about and some tangible items they can do to make a difference. Help them follow through with their ideas and record their successes!
- Change the temperature. To reduce anxiety, apply ice packs to the wrists or back of neck at bedtime to calm the system, or drink ice cold water. On the other side, try a warm bath with calming scents to get ready to sleep.
- Write some ‘dream starters’ on slips of paper and keep in a jar near their bed. They can choose a starter and close their eyes, playing the ‘movie’ of their paper in their minds while falling asleep.
- A tent over their bed can block out the stimulation of their room and help them get to sleep sooner! https://www.privacypop.com/shop/tent/privacy-pop-bed-tent/
- A soft light with aromatherapy can help them associate a smell with bedtime. https://www.muji.us/store/ultrasonic-aroma-diffuser.html
- Weighted blankets can be very calming. (https://www.mosaicweightedblankets.com/benefits/)