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Boy Hasn't Slept in 3 Years

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His parents have to take shifts watching him day and night.

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A 3-year-old boy who never sleeps--how can his mom possibly deal? We're short-tempered enough when our kids sleep 8-10 hours a night. Imagine if they only slept 8-10 minutes...or not at all.

That's the reality for Shannon Lamb, mother of Rhett. Since Rhett was a baby, he's been awake nearly 24/7.He has a rare condition called chiari malformation, which puts pressure on the brain stem and prevents sleep. This week, Rhett had surgery that will hopefully relieve the pressure and allow him to snooze, but doctors say there may not be any changes for several months or possibly even a year.

We talked to friend of momlogic Jill Spivack, LCSW, founder of Sleepy Planet, about what comes next. Once he is able to begin sleeping, here are her top tips (also applicable to moms of all sleep-challenged children--hallelujah!):

Create a "mommy bed."
I'd recommend that the parents first accompany him to his room at night before he tries to sleep initially and to make a "mommy bed" or "daddy bed" on the floor near his bed and encourage him to try to relax and tell him that they'll be right by his side.

Make your move.
Once he's able to sleep better with his parents nearby, they'll probably want to start moving themselves out of the room slowly as he learns to become more independent in his sleep. I'd recommend some sort of reward system in the morning (when he's able to stay in his room at night). He'll probably test boundaries once he's physiologically able to sleep because he's accustomed to having his parents up with him all night.

Create a sleep book.
Over time, his parents can explain the importance of sleep for his body to have energy and be strong and that they want to help him learn to get the rest he needs. They can make a little book (with stick figures) about his whole experience and how his body is finally ready to sleep since he had the surgery to make him feel better. I'd have them outline the steps in his bedtime routine--bath, brushing teeth, pjs, stories, laying down and closing his eyes--and that the next step is to try to rest until the morning when the sun comes up.

Stay strong.
After a traumatic beginning of life with a child, parents often compensate for the pain they've all lived through by continuing to respond to habits over time that are actually possible to change if they'd like to. Ultimately, the greatest gift for this little guy would be for him to be able to relax into sleep and to sleep through the night, as that will contribute to better attention, coordination, focus and emotional evenness. Helping the child learn to become a more independent sleeper should be the ultimate goal.

Shannon Lamb is a superhero in our eyes. We hope she and her son finally get what they deserve: A good's night sleep!


next: How Moms Get in the Mood
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
1tiredmommy May 15, 2008, 2:20 PM

WELL, I WOULD NOT CALL MYSELF A SUPER HERO, ALTHOUGH I HAVE AGED ABOUT 10 YEARS IN THE PAST 3. JUST TO GIVE YOU ALL AN UPDATE. RHETT IS DOING VERY WELL, I HAVE BEEN DOING THE MOMMY BED FOR A WHILE NOW, BUT VERY GOOD SUGGESTION. RHETT IS RECOVERING WONDERFULLY, WE STILL HAVE A LONG ROAD AHEAD OF US, THERAPIES, ETC. FOR HIS BEHAVIOR, AND JUST ALOT OF ADJUSTING ON HIS PART. TO GIVE YOU AN UPDATE RHETT HAS SLEPT TWO FULL NIGHTS OUT OF THE 5 SINCE WE GOT HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL, ALSO THE OTHER NIGHT HE ONLY GOT UP 1-2 TIMES A NIGHT. WE ARE SHOCKED, IF THESE ARE THE KIND OF RESULTS WE HAVE HAD IN A WEEKS TIME, I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT THE NEXT FEW MONTHS WILL BRING. THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS.
SHANNON LAMB

Celenie May 16, 2008, 4:54 PM

Wow. Excellent news that he is responding so well to the surgery. You have my prayers for a full recovery. How has his inability to sleep affected his overall temperament? How is he different (if he is different) after these new nights of sleep?
Good luck.

G Smith May 16, 2008, 8:00 PM

Shannon and family,
You guys have the love and support of administration and teachers at Floral; we are keeping Rhett in our prayers; I hope Rhett is progressing well and we see him back soon.
G. Smith

1TIREDMOMMY May 19, 2008, 12:35 PM

RHETT WENT BACK TO SCHOOL TODAY, ACTUALLY HIS MOOD HAS IMPROVED SOMEWHAT, ALTHOUGH WE STILL HAVE OUR TERRIBLE 3’S GOING ON, I HAVE NOTICE HIS LITTLE OUTBURSTS DON’T LAST AS LONG….AND HE IS TALKING UP A STORM, THAT I CAN’T BELIEVE. I HAVE TO ADMIT HIS TEACHERS AT FLORAL MUST HAVE THE PATIENTS OF SAINTS. I AM STILL WAITING THOUGH, THEY SAID IT WOULD TAKE MONTHS TO SEE A REAL IMPROVEMENT, I’M AWAITING THAT WITH ANITICIPATION. THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS.

Leslie June 2, 2008, 3:17 PM

Yippee! I saw the story about Rhett and watched your interview on the news shortly after he had his surgery. My heart went out to your family after seeing that. I am SO SO GLAD to hear that he is doing well and that he’s finally SLEEPING! I know how yucky my boys feel when they don’t get enough sleep so for him to hardly sleep at all -I just couldn’t imagine! Anyway, I’m going to pass this onto some friends of mine who will also be glad to hear that things are improving for you and your family!! Congrats!

mandies2happy January 24, 2009, 5:56 PM

I just saw the video from GMA on yahoo video. I have chiari too. I had the decompression surgery in august of 2006. While this condition has no cure i’m hopefull that everything will continue to go well for Rhett and for myself. I still have problems from the chiari but since the surgery my son has his mommy back. I can get on the floor and play lego’s again :) I used to spend days in bed with headaches, i was afraid to drive him to school due to bouts of blurred vision. Life is much better now. I’ll keep rhett in my prayers.

Katie February 9, 2009, 6:38 PM

We’re in the process of seeing if my daughter has Chiari. She goes for a sedated MRI on wednesday. You can read more info on my blog. She has a genetic condition in which Chiari is listed in some patients. My daughter reminds me of Rhett. My heart goes out to patients that have suffered with this for years, be sent from place to place and have no one believe them and take them seriously. Like what we are currently going through. Clearly Physicians and other Health Care Providers need to be educated. They need to look at the big picture and the patient’s history and not just focus on one factor

Lawyer_Amycurtisy January 29, 2011, 2:56 PM

Hey guys,

I’m new here.
Btw, I happen to be a lawyer, too. :D
Hopefully I can contribute here!


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