A few months back we recognized that our family was barreling toward crisis. Our grave issues around sleep had compounded, resulting in an overall collective under functioning. There was a palpable uptick in general disconnect between us all. Our kids were struggling with basic routines, transitions to school, working memory, executive functioning, toileting, hygiene, mood swings, sensory processing, and winding up in the mornings and down in the evenings.
As moms, our ability to retain or recall information was increasingly concerning. We were doing the usual walk into the room with a task at hand, only to need to walk back to the room from which we came in order to recall exactly what it was we originally left the room to go do. Like, 4 times an hour. We were losing the ability to connect the dots. We were sore, fatigued, under slept, over anxious and cranky.
Now, none of these things were new. They had merely become exasperated for one reason or another. Maybe it was the transition from summer to fall that we couldn’t quite recover from. Perhaps a culmination of life events over the course of the year. I think our general lifestyle caught up with us.
When you’re parenting kiddos who’ve experienced great trauma and neglect at such detrimental developmental stages, and whom embody a mix of cognitive and speech delays, barriers to growing strong and healthy are aplenty, surfacing at various times in a variety of ways. This is not my area of expertise, but because we did not choose the path of least resistance, we are always trouble-shooting, problem-solving, rearranging, investing, growing, learning. There’s a sort of perpetual shell game underway in our home, rotating from resolving one issue to processing another, or identifying the need to reach out to this professional or that professional. I think it started to feel crisis-driven when neither of us were able to offer the other an alternative perspective. Every day was a marathon inside a marathon inside a marathon. If that is even possible. And it felt very much like we were busting ass merely to survive and yet things weren’t getting better. The opposite, actually.
So, we took a risk.
Three weeks ago, we met with a psychiatrist, specifically to treat one of our kiddos. This particular kiddo has historically not slept through the night, has had night terrors, shakes self awake while sleeping and takes 2-3 hours to fall asleep. Kiddo was also waking everyone else up. Now, kiddo is not alone here in struggling with sleep hygiene. We all have issues with sleep for one reason or another and for the majority of us, it is chemical. Hormonal. But our goal was to start with one kiddo. We believed that if we could get this kiddo in particular, a full night of rest, then A) the odds would improve for the rest of us to get better sleep and B) kiddo (and all of us) would have a better chance at functioning throughout the regular day vs. struggling every step of it. We could move from survive to alive.
We were lucky, in that the psychiatrist was peripherally known to us and we were aware that, while conventionally trained, she was also into functional medicine and would not medicate without ruling out diet and nutrition changes first. We felt strongly about trying everything before introducing medication.
As it turns out, the straw that broke the camel’s back was also the one that laid the beginnings of a path to wellness for our enture family. At least, that is the hope.
I’m not going to get into the things I’ve learned about hormones, metabolism or epigenetics, eating from the rainbow or how/what foods we’re preparing. It’s just too much to sift through right this moment and I’m learning in real time. I’m chronicling parts of that journey here, if you’re interested in some of the details. It’s more for me to organize my thoughts, get some feedback from like-minded folks and to have a visual to refer to as I learn, discover and reflect. It's also a place where you'll find some of this playing out in real time with our kids.
What I will offer up in the few moments I have left, are the changes we made and some of the initial results. A snapshot of this moment in time, as some of us are beginning to sleep a little better and all of us are eating significantly better. It’s not altogether clear which pieces are diet-related and which pieces are sleep-related, though I don’t believe the two are unrelated. On the contrary, they are more married than any mutually symbiotic relationship I’ve ever witnessed.
We’ve made some shifts in who’s sleeping where and what we’re doing to encourage falling asleep. I’m not talking about essential oils, weighted blankets, bedtime yoga, noise machines, electronic sunsets or lowering the lights. We’re way beyond any combination of those interventions and we’ve experimented with all of them. For 3 years. Which is not to say that they don’t work for other families. For reasons I won’t get into, it became very clear that in order for our kiddo who struggles the most to get some sleep, we would need to turn down the fight/flight/freeze part of kiddo’s brain and reset circadian rhythm. To do that while affording opportunities for everyone else to get as much rest as possible, we isolated kiddo while we iron out the wrinkles by turning the playroom into a 3rd bedroom in our home. Kiddo is taking an effective dose of melatonin to fall asleep and as of one week ago, I am administering a 1am dose of medication to keep kiddo asleep through the night. What this means at this juncture, is that everyone is getting a little more sleep. And that's a big deal.
What we put on the end of our forks and how we incorporate cooking and shopping for food and eating together have always been values held high in our home and close to our hearts as mommas steering this ship. We ate decent. Stayed away from most processed food and sugar, sugary drinks, fast food and general junk. We ate a fair amount of whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Fresh chicken, and healthy meals. But we were never hardcore. I would call the choices we’re making around food hardcore right now. And we ate out. A lot. 5 guys, shake shack, Chinese, Indian, Pizza/movie Fridays and Chipotle were vices in our often-chaotic life. We loved our beach food and our festival food and boy did we grown-ups enjoy our sweets.
In order to find wellness, we cut out all the “bad” or questionable stuff that might be barriers to healing our bodies from the inside out: processed sugar, processed foods, MSG, dyes and chemicals, grains, gluten, dairy, soy and meats that aren’t organic and grass-fed. Cold-turkey, as it were. We swapped a diet spotted with bad calories for one rich with high quality calories. We’re experimenting with snacks and lunches that have high-quality, lean protein, low-glycemic foods, and healthy fats with omega-3 fatty acids. We’re eating foods “from the rainbow,” cooking with ghee instead of olive oil and butter and incorporating more herbs and spices into food prep. We’ve boosted Vitamin D3 and vitamin B’s, along with daily routines incorporating magnesium and probiotics/fermented foods to balance the good with the bad in our guts. Our portion sizes are smaller and more frequent, and we’re drinking 3-5 times more water.
Here are some small changes we’ve observed in 3 weeks, in no particular order:
Moms changes as a result of diet and sleep
- Increase in energy
- Softer skin
- Body odor is less strong
- More clarity and connected thoughts
- Increase in ability to pay attention and remember
- Decrease in cravings across the board
- Our taste buds have changed
- Significantly fewer headaches
- Less vertigo
- Better sleep for tx mama, maybe a little bit better for me
- Minimal inflammation
- Allergies not as significant
- Weight loss
Kids' changes as a result of diet and sleep
- Moods are more stable, less highs/lows
- More energy at times when they would fall asleep sitting up
- Memories surfacing
- Thawing of emotions in a positive way
- Less gas and bloating
- Increase in appetite for whole foods, fruits and vegis
- Skin, scalp and hair a little more moisturized ongoing
- Bowel movements more consistent
- Increase in overall clarity and connection after first waking up
- Obvious change in ability to complete thoughts – more on point after waking up
- Maybe better sleep for some
There’s no magic bullet here. We're not even close to a tipping point. It's hard to predict when or if that will even happen. It’s expensive and laborious. We are blowing through the dishes. Preparing almost all our food is time-consuming and not convenient for a family of 5 with young kids. We’re prepping and cleaning up in the kitchen almost constantly given the number of meals and lunches and snacks. And. we’re building a repertoire of options. Researching, experimenting, sourcing. It’s been exhausting and cathartic. Fascinating and necessary. And we’re engaging our kids in as much of it as we possibly can. For now and for their future.