Anxiety and sleep problems are regular bedfellows. For a developing mind, the worries or fears built up at nursery or school can have a massive impact on how your child will sleep at night. From being too hot, too thirsty to needing the toilet repeatedly, your kid will try it all to avoid sleep.
Let’s be honest. When your child doesn’t sleep, you don’t sleep, and your whole household can become an overtired, irritable mess. Everyone’s emotions and wellbeing are at breaking point, and you find yourself in a vicious cycle of no sleep.
Normalizing your anxious child’s sleep habits is possible. Read on for some helpful tips to getting a better night’s sleep:
Set aside time to talk
Getting to the office fresh from the school run, grabbing a coffee, and then a day full of meetings might be your run of the mill, but it definitely isn’t for your child. Their day may look more like this:
- “Mom or Dad’s leaving me at the school gate, I really don’t want them to leave”
- “I really need the toilet, but I’m too far away. What will happen now?”
- “I don’t look like anyone else”
- “That was really hard. I don’t know how my friends can do that. I really wish I could too”
- “Why is everyone staring at me?”
- “Ooh, I really want to tell my Mommy about that! That was great!”
You then rush back to the school gate, to a super happy, tearful or on the edge child. What do you do next?
When your kid starts going to preschool, nursery or school, their day is so far removed from your own. They want to share it with you. So set aside time for them to talk to you about what they enjoyed, what they found challenging and how they think their day went. They will probably want to know about your day too, so share with them.
Don’t “make” your child sleep
If your awake child causes you stress or anxiety, you need to consider why that is. As a parent, it is not your job to make your child go to sleep. Allowing your kid to self-regulate their bedtime will help them wind down easier.
So if your child can’t sleep, encourage them to read a book. That way, they are getting themselves to the point of sleep without your constant company.
Be a stickler for routine
From the moment your little one came into the world, you likely created a bedtime routine. Bathtime, storytelling, and toothbrushing all are part of what makes your child’s body prepare to sleep. So stick to it!
As your kid gets older, you may need to adjust their routine so that it is more age-appropriate, but the fundamentals should remain the same:
- Stick to a bedtime – as your child develops, their body will naturally rely on the sleep-wake cycle to regulate their sleeping pattern. That is why sticking to bedtime is so important, as your child needs to recognize the differences between day and night for their body to function correctly
- Keep up good oral hygiene – from using a soft cloth on your baby’s gums to a children’s electric toothbrush, your child needs to stay on top of their tooth brushing routine. Tooth decay and painful cavities can also disrupt sleep, so why add to the nighttime stress!
- Baths = magic – science has proven that having a warm bath before bed can help you fall asleep more quickly. The water raises your core body temperature so that it triggers your body’s natural cooling down period that gets you ready to sleep. This drop in temperature is a signal to your body that it is time for sleep
What’s more, our whole lives are governed by routine. So helping your child to stick to a simple bedtime routine will allow them to be more adaptable and efficient as they grow.
Switch off the screens and read a story
Have you ever taken the time to watch what your children are seeing on TV? Bright lights, loud, abrasive voices, and that’s before you throw in the bizarre story that is unfolding before your eyes. Now your child is full of adrenaline rushing around their body, and their mind is all over the place, just before bed.
Switch off the screen! Overstimulation is enough to make anyone not sleep, let alone your developing child.
Instead, settle down with some calming coloring or listen to some music on the wind-down hour before bed. Then, snuggle down and read a story together. The more you read to your child, the better they can understand the world around them, culture, and people, as well as develop their language and communication skills.
Bedroom = safe space
Children like to feel comfortable in their own space. So let them play in their bedroom throughout the day, so they are used to their surroundings. That way, they will feel more at ease when they are on their own at nighttime.
Often anxious children will want the comforting touch and presence of you. After all, you’re their anchor and reassuring voice in the night. At the same time, you need space for yourself too. A children’s weighted blanket imitates the feeling of a warm hug as your kid sleeps. Designed with deep pressure stimulation, melatonin – the sleep hormone – is naturally produced, so your child will sleep for longer and get the restorative sleep they need.
With a mixture of soft lighting and simple decor, your child’s bedroom doesn’t have to be a place of fear. Knowing that you are nearby will also encourage your child to settle down more quickly for the night. Make sure you praise their efforts and celebrate how well they have done with a sticker chart or a reward at the end of each week or month.
Your child’s sleeping habits are all part of their learning and developmental journey. The more normal bedtime is, the more confident they will be in settling down for the night.