This story was originally published December 03, 2020
So. Tired. Both of you. And all you want is to finish the bedtime routine so you can unwind and your kiddo can be assured of a good night's sleep. The last book has been read and with a last kiss is bestowed on their forehead, you quietly slip out of the room, head to your tea, blanket and remote, when there it its.
"Mama, I'm thirsty."
You muster what energy—and patience—you have left to bring them a cup of water, wondering, are they really thirsty?
Turns out, when your child asks for a drink of water before they go to sleep, they aren't stalling—there truly may be a biological or emotional motivation behind it.
In a recent study with mice, researchers at McGill University in Quebec found that an increase in drinking water two hours before sleeping helped to protect the mice from dehydration during their sleep cycle. This caused the researchers to wonder whether the cells inside the brain's "hydration sensor" could be communicating with the part of the brain that controls the inner clock, which prompts the mice to sleep and wake up.
By stimulating their inner clock with electricity, the researchers discovered that there indeed was a molecular process behind the thirst, involving a neuropeptide that regulates the circadian cycles that respond primarily to light and dark, and turn on thirst neurons.
"Although this study was performed in rodents, it points toward an explanation as to why we often experience thirst and ingest liquids such as water or milk before bedtime," the study's senior-author Charles Bourque, a professor of neurology at McGill University in Québec, said in a statement published in the journal Nature.
Okay, so maybe your kiddo really is thirsty. But when you bring them that last cup of water, they take only one tiny little sip. You know they can't really be that thirsty then, so what else is going on?
Although, at times, your child truly needs that last drink of water, most of the time the need is really much more emotional.
An extra drink of water usually entails more time with you and probably an extra snuggle as well. But if you think about how little time it takes to have that sip of water, it makes sense also to think that company might not be what your kiddo is looking for.
Truth is, your child needs to know that they can count on you, no matter what, unconditionally.
They want to feel that they are not alone if they need you in the night. They need to know that when they call for you, they can trust you to respond, protect and take care of them—without a doubt. So if your patience is thinning, just remember that the comfort and reassurance your response provides your child during this little night time dance goes a long way to increase their sense of security and their bond with you, mama.
Bottom line: Don't lose any sleep over it—this will not last forever. A sip of water with a final hug or sweet, extra kiss is a small price to pay for your child to feel that you are reliable and loyal at all costs. So stay calm, patient and loving, and remember that sooner than you think, you will end up missing this beautiful charade. And, they might actually be thirsty.