Sleep Issues and the Mentally Ill Child

September 23, 2010 Angela McClanahan

All this talk about sleep is making me wonder--will I ever get any, myself?

The recent discussions about sleep disorders and mental illness are unusually timely--I'd been planning to do this week's post on sleep problems, because we are definitely experiencing them at our house.

My Bipolar Child Has Sleep Problems

I may have mentioned in an earlier post (forgive me if I don't recall--I'm tired) that my son, Bob (who has bipolar disorder and ADHD) is having sleep troubles lately. There was a sleepwalking episode earlier this week. Last night, there was another.

I heard him get up about the same time--11:00 p.m.--and go into the bathroom. I listened, hoping (again) this was just a potty break. When it became apparent he wasn't there to use the toilet, I got up to investigate.

I found him standing in the middle of the room looking terrified and confused. He pointed at the toilet and started to shiver.

"It's the toilet, Bob."

A pause. "Oh."

"Do you need to go to the bathroom?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he huddled into a ball on the floor, cowering. I noticed the window was open.

"Did you open the window?"

He didn't answer, but I knew he had, because we're still using our air conditioning, and the windows are always closed. Why did he open the window? I could only imagine what he'd been trying to accomplish with that maneuver.

"Do you need to go to the bathroom, Bob?"

He sat down on the toilet, but started kicking at some unseen horror on the floor in front of him. I got him up and tried again to wake him, but it wasn't happening--he looked right through me. He's done it hundreds of times in his almost 9 years, and it still freaks me out.

He went back to bed without difficulty, though he was still trembling. When I got up this morning, I noticed his light was on.


Sleep Problems and Reaching Out For Help

I called his psychiatrist this morning, and she added another antipsychotic medication to his regimen. We'll try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens--spin the wheel, see where the chips fall.

I promise my next post will actually address what I've read about sleep problems, mental illness, children, and the chicken-or-egg-type debate within the mental health community. Tonight, unfortunately, I'm simply too exhausted to communicate any sort of coherent thought.

Next time...

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, September 23). Sleep Issues and the Mentally Ill Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 21 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

September, 23 2010 at 4:33 pm

Sleep problems.
Affect one, affect the entire family - all 4 of us.
When my 13 year old son is decompensating, he is up every hour, which means we are up every hour.
Or else the antipsychotics are so constipating, he is screaming and cowering in the corner with stomach pain. Try administering medical treatment (I'm a nurse) to a mentally ill and mentally challenged psychotic child at 2:00 in the morning. I ended up having to call an ambulance. Try preventing the problem in the first place with a child who is non-compliant, uncooperative in the first place - exhausting and impossible. We'll just cure it with diet and exercise. Yeah. Right.
My 10 year old is so traumatized by her brother's illness and mental abuse, she has to sleep with my husband and I - she cannot sleep in a room by herself - it throws her into panic. I have no mental energy to put into training her into proper sleep hygiene, or desensitization.
My husband is a garbage man - the safety of the public depends on his skill and focus of maneuvering that huge truck - thank goodness he can operate on little sleep.
You mentioned the treatments for our mentally ill children are experimental. None of the drugs my son has and is on are approved in Canada for use in children. But there are no alternatives. Not when they are this ill.
My son is now obese from the antipsychotics - but there is no alternative - and his future is so uncertain because none of us knows what the heck we are dealing with - has symptoms of everything - autism, bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and whatever else.

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