By Lim Hui Chieh, Mind your body, 16 Dec 2010

By the time he was five months old, Rudra Shapur Vinayagan (above) could not fall asleep unless he was cradled in the arms of his parents and rocked gently for five to 10 minutes, or given some milk. He was also easily jolted awake – two to three times every night – often by his own movements. He would cry for up to half an hour each time if his parents  did not follow the magic formula of rocking or feeding. His mother, Dr Prithiba Manickavasagar, 35, a veterinarian by training, recalled of those nights: “He would be obviously distressed and sometimes he’d be crying until he threw up.”


She thinks that he came to associate being rocked and fed with sleep, because he had colic in his first couple of months. Then he had to be carried for a long time after feeds to be burped, before he would doze off. Neither baby nor the first-time parents could get a good night’s sleep. In June this year, they turned to SBCC Baby & Child Clinic’s Dr Jenny Tang, who specializes in sleep disorders.


Rudra was then 10 months old, and his mother was six months’ pregnant with a second son. Her husband, Mr Vinayagan Dharmarajah, 38, a legal counsel, said: “With one baby inside her, having to carry and rock another baby was not ideal.” The Singaporean couple were also worried that Rudra’s sleeping problem would affect his development. Mr Vinayagan said: “Some people say, just let it be, it will go off on its own. And it will disappear later. “But the question is: Does the child lose out as a consequence of having gone through this period?”


Dr Tang diagnosed Rudra with a sleep onset association disorder, when the child is too reliant on certain objects or actions to fall asleep. She advised his parents to wean him off being rocked and fed before bedtime. So when he woke up in the middle of the night, they did not pick him up or feed him, but stroked his arm or sang to him. After about two weeks, Rudra gradually began to be able to fall asleep on his own. Now, he can sleep for six hours at night without waking, and is more energetic in the day, Dr Prithiba noted.


The couple have been mindful not to carry their younger son, two-month-old Bhairav Mithra, for too long after his feeds, to prevent a repeat of what happened with Rudra. Mr Vinayagan said: “The first few days of retraining were very difficult. Even though we were warned what to expect, when we saw him crying, we wondered if we were on the right track. “A lot of it was common sense, but ultimately we needed professional help and support to tell us the right thing to do.”

Better rest, better grades

Joseph Andrei Dacanay just could not get a good night’s sleep – the 12-year-old had trouble breathing at night. His mother, information technology project manager Juliet Aczon, 47, thought it might have something to do with his allergic rhinitis which left him feeling congested all the time. She knew she had to do something when one night last year, she found him sleeping upright, propped up by a mountain of pillows.


Ms Aczon, a Singapore permanent citizen from the Philippines, took her son to her company doctor, who referred him to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. After a sleep study, he was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea. His airway was blocked when he slept, which led to frequent pauses in breathing. Just months before the Primary School Leaving Examination, he had surgery to remove his enlarged tonsils and adenoids, clearing his airway.


The chubby boy was also advised to lose some weight. Ms Aczon is glad she got his sleep woes sorted out. He ended up doing better in his exams than his parents had expected. He also did more exercise like swimming and brisk walking, and cut down on eating junk food, losing 10kg in the process. Ms Aczon said: “He’s improved a lot. He’s more rested and his concentration is better now. We no longer hear him snoring from the other room.”


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