"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, February 27, 2011

placebo effect

Trust me. I'm the first to admit that I'm figuring this thing out as I go. This Parenting Thing. And I am finding out what doesn't work as often as I'm finding the right answers. But onward we go, and every once in awhile I can look back and think, Huh. Looks like I nailed that one. And give myself a pat on the back.

And then I remember that my almost-4 year old still sleeps with a binky and I realize that I still have some work to do. We're picking our battles, people.

We haven't messed with the binky (which Does Not Leave The Bed, for what it's worth) because Evan's sleep has been such a nightmare since birth. I feel like if I were to take away the binky, which he depends on for bedtime self-soothing, I might as well throw out any hope for a decent night's sleep. So the binky, for now, stays. And I'm kind of  okay with that.

But I'm not okay with the fact that Evan regularly comes into our room 3-4 times a night. We've tried everything...incentive charts for staying in bed, allowing him to come into our room to sleep (on the floor, the king-sized bed has yet to be purchased), turning on the white noise machine, turning OFF the white noise machine (when he complained that it was too loud), different night lights, different bedtime buddies, different degrees of door-openness...you name it, we tried it. We've had a consistent bedtime routine since he was two weeks old. He doesn't watch TV after 3 pm. He's not hungry or thirsty or overtired. He just doesn't sleep.

And for the first time, he's asking for help. In the mornings, Evan will say, "I just wish I had a good night sleep." And beginning around lunchtime, "I just don't want it to be bedtime. I don't like bedtime anymore." I need to help him sleep. For him.

And so we were at a crossroads. We put up with continued sleepless nights, or we medicate. The medication would be a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain which helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

I can't do it. I can't continue with the sleepless nights, but I CAN'T medicate. I've read enough (online. Whatever, it counts.) to know that I'm not going to give my string-bean, not-yet-four-year old a hormone supplement that is not recommended for use in people under the age of 10. I hesitate to give my kids Tylenol. The few times I've had to give Evan Benedryl for allergic reactions have been so anxiety-inducing in myself that I've considered pouring myself a dose, as well. I sweat while my kids are receiving their vaccines (which are given no more than two at a time and on a delayed schedule). I didn't take anything stronger than Motrin during or after the labors and deliveries of my boys. I guess you could say I'm not a "medicine woman."

But I am a psychology major. And so I know all about The Placebo Effect.  A placebo, in a controlled experiment, is basically a sugar-pill. Say you're conducting a study on the effectiveness of a new medication on migraine headaches. You give half of the study participants the "real" pill, which contains the medication you are testing, and half the placebo, which contains none of the medication. Both groups think they're getting the real pill, but the researchers are looking to find a statistically significant difference in affliction between the two groups...that the Medication Group would report a decrease in headache symptoms.....which would indicate that the medication being tested Does work. What researchers often find, though, is that some participants in the Placebo Group will still report feeling relief of their migraine symptoms, though, unbeknownst to them, they have received no medication. This is what's known as a Placebo Effect--you THINK you're receiving a medication, so your body responds as though you really are...and your headache symptoms decrease.

Soooooooo.....while we were at one of Evan's pre-Disney check-ups for his wouldn't-go-away fever virus, I mentioned to the pediatrician (whom you know that I LOVE) that we were still dealing with some Sleep Issues. And then, I gave her the Big Eye. You know, the one you give to the other adult in the room, over the child's head, when you're going to talk in code.

"So, I was wondering about.....those placebo pills."
"Well, is that 'frowned-upon' as trickery, or do we allow it?"
[she smiled] "Any port, in the stormiest seas of parenting, is safe enough to stop at. Stop, regain your footing, and wait for the storm to pass."
[and then directed at both me and Evan...] "You know, I've had very good luck with Special Night Time Vitamins. They give boys and girls all the vitamins and minerals that their bodies need to help them to get a good night's sleep."

Evan looked at me. I looked at Evan and said, "Good news! I know JUST where to find Special Night Time Vitamins!"

He smiled. I smiled. And then we went to Target.

I bought a smaller bottle of the same gummy bear vitamins that he takes in the morning. The recommended dose is two little gummy bears but he's only ever taken one a day. Adding a vitamin at night is just rounding out the dose. As I read the label (double-checking for Fish Oil....food allergy parents read every label, every time), I said to Evan, "Yup. These are the Special Night Time Vitamins that Dr. C was telling us about. They give you all the vitamins and minerals you need to get your body ready for a great night's sleep."

We're on Night 7 of our Special Night Time Vitamins, and I have Good News to Report: Evan has only come into our room 3 times TOTAL. And two of those times have been after 5am, after which he has STILL gone back to sleep.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Placebo Effect is alive and well in our house. And we're sleeping. Now...to get the baby to sleep in.....

Lesson Learned:
Never say "Never," parents. You, too, may someday find yourselves tricking your kid into thinking they're taking sleeping pills. And, trust me, you'll be okay with that.

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