Years ago, I was having so much trouble sleeping that I looked for a specialist. He asked me when I had slept well for the last time. The truth is I never really slept very well. My mother used to say that two of her four children were as restless to sleep as my father, who sleep walks. In order to give me a diagnosis, I went to his clinic to be sleep-monitored overnight. I got there already in pajamas, ready for bed. The medical assistants hooked me to many wires. Some around my stomach, others around my head, and some on my legs. The room they put me in was very dark and had a comfortable bed. There was a camera right in front of me.
I tried not to feel embarrassed about somebody watching me sleep. They do it all the time, and that was going to help me solve a problem that was wearing me out. I am not a heavy sleeper, but I felt that I slept fine that night. I only had one bathroom interruption, and no nightmares, which were common. At 7 a.m., they woke me up and discharged me. Later that week I went back to the doctor’s office for the results. I was astonished. Among other numbers, he mentioned that I woke up seven times, turned on my side 10 times and kicked 57 times.
“Why?” I asked. “You suffer from gastric reflux and RLS,” he answered. It was confusing to me. First, how would my stomach be the cause of my poor sleeping? Second, how could he tell? Well, the “stomach monitor” had captured it, and sure enough, the diagnosis was confirmed later when I had an endoscopy. My monitored brain activity also showed that, despite feeling otherwise, I had had nightmares that night. That was also due to reflux, as shown concomitantly from the brain and stomach scan. All of that was causing me to toss, turn, kick and wake up frequently. He prescribed me a low dose of Paxil and some diet changes and pillow positioning to prevent night gastric reflux. It worked pretty well. When I stopped taking Paxil, though, my Restless Legs came back, but I assumed it was due to being pregnant at the time. A year ago, I started a low dose of Prozac and have not had trouble sleeping anymore. Interestingly, the use of these medications is controversial. Many studies show them as worsening Restless Legs Syndrome. Nonetheless, some patients benefit from them, and I am an example.
My two-year-old daughter too has always had trouble sleeping. As a newborn, her pediatrician diagnosed her with Acid Reflux. He prescribed her Zantac. I also gave her gripe water, which seemed to help with digestion. I avoided laying her down with the head and feet at the same level, and I would usually carry her on a sling to avoid laying her down at all. When she got older and transitioned to a bed, she did not want a pillow nor could she stay still. I would tuck her in and kiss her good night, then come back later to find her upside down, or even on the floor. My first though was that she was falling from the bed. I started spying on her with the baby camera and noticed she was struggling to fall asleep. She tossed and turned, and kicked her legs. She did not seem to be able to find a comfortable position. She tried and tried, moving around, until she would give up and hit the rug. She would still kick the rug for minutes before finally falling asleep. The whole ordeal took over an hour every night. Then she would wake up two to three times, crying. I did not need a doctor to tell me she has RLS too. Now, of course, I do not want my two year old to take Paxil or Prozac (and I doubt they would prescribe it anyway). Not now, not twenty years from now. Never. Alternatively, I am giving her probiotics to help her digestion. I also started massaging her legs after her bath with Arnica gel. I found a calming mist spray to use in her bedroom. She seems to be sleeping better lately, with my natural solutions.
What is interesting to me is the genetic factor. Besides my own issues, my husband is a sleep talker. Did my child inherit sleeping troubles from us? To my surprise, studies show that many cases are, indeed, hereditary. There are not so many options to treat this condition, especially because very little is known about what triggers it in the first place. As a family, we adopted a healthy diet with light meals. We all get our legs massaged with Arnica gel before bed, and night mist sprayed in our bedrooms. Being consistent with our bedtime routine seems to help as well. Therefore, we all wind down before hitting the sack to avoid trouble falling asleep. So far, it is working. We still have our bad nights, but they are not as bad as before. I hope that we have managed it for good.