May 9, 2009

Sleepwalker Now has Bad Dreams

His mom said that he's been sleepwalking for at least a few months. He'd been waking up in the middle of the night, getting out of bed and going to the kitchen or living room. He doesn't do anything in particular, but doesn't answer if you talk to him. After a few minutes, he goes back to bed. She was used to this.

But she was worried when, two weeks ago, he started waking up screaming and crying about an hour after going to sleep. Even after being comforted and going back to sleep, he's been waking up a little later—sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes later—screaming and crying. This has been happening at least 5 nights a week for the last couple of weeks, and mother is exhausted. Alec told her he wanted to talk to me.

Alec is 10, and that's pretty close to the peak age for sleepwalking. At 11 or so, studies show about 1 in every 6 or 7 kids sleepwalk, boys more than girls. It's usually harmless, they usually grow out of it, and it's not usually a sign of any particular problem. If they leave the house, or if the sleepwalking is happening a lot, or if the kid is getting injured, you need to see a doctor. But this wasn't sleepwalking any more.

Did something happen to him? His mother didn't say this out loud, and neither did I. But I was sure worried. When he came into the office, I asked. I asked if anyone was being mean to him at school—any teachers, any students? How about at home? Did something happen? Did somebody say something to him? Is he worried about something bad happening to him or somebody he cares about? All the answers were no. I asked his mother to leave us alone, and I asked him my usual screening questions. Did he feel sad? Did he think about running away? Did he think about hurting himself? I asked him again if anyone was mean to him or anything bad happened. What, exactly, was he thinking about? Maybe there was a clue there. He said that he remembered these scary thoughts and dreams. He pictures the scary posters from the horror section in the video store. He has images in his mind from movies he has seen, sometimes even a year ago and more. He hasn't seen any new scary movies, or heard any new scary stories.

I pointed out that his exposure to these scary materials wasn't ideal, but it wasn't new. Why, at this moment, should these things suddenly acquire such power? I made his mother go through the calendar day by day around the time this started. His mother said that they were all particularly exhausted the first night since that was the night his older brother Jason's spring break was over and he went back to boarding school.

Jason didn't share a room with Alec, but they were very close. When their parents got divorced, Alec became even more dependent on Jason. Jason kept scary things from affecting him. Jason was his protector.

The scary images were already there, waiting. When Jason left, Alec was defenseless.

Unfortunately, the school Jason attended doesn't allow phone calls more than once a week. So I suggested buying a ton of cheap postcards. Every night before bed, Alec will write to his brother. It doesn't matter what he says. He needs to keep that connection alive at bedtime to keep the monsters in their place.

Please see my post on Swine Flu.

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Please let me know what you think. Do you know a child or situation like this?