Having a child who does not sleep well can be very stressful. You may find that your child always needs just one more thing before he can go to bed. For example, ‘I need a glass of water,’ ‘I need 6 stuffed animals in my bed,’ or ‘Mom, can I sleep in your room?’ may be frequent phrases around your house.
Parents may be frustrated and exhausted. Siblings may get annoyed by the sound of a little sister crying at midnight.
Your child’s daily functioning may be impaired due to poor sleep habits. He may fall asleep at school or have learning problems due to chronic drowsiness. Health problems may result due to lack of sleep. For example, some kids keep getting sick with every little bug that goes around due to poor sleep habits. Nightmares may prevent a child from falling asleep, for fear of recurrence.
What do challenges with Sleep Problems look like?
- Saying, “Mommy, I can’t sleep!”
- Having trouble getting to bed at night?
- Crying when you say the word ‘bedtime?’
- Knocking at your door 10 minutes after being put to bed?
- Bursting into your room in tears, reporting that he had a nightmare?
- Having a bedtime routine that takes too long?
- Showing poor sleep habits that cause everyone in your house to lose sleep and wake up grouchy?
- Insisting on sleeping in sibling’s or parent’s room?
Why is Sleep Problems happening?
Clinically, several reasons can explain why your child cannot sleep. Circadian rhythms: Some children have difficulty with their circadian rhythms, which means that the typical patterns of when a person gets sleepy and wakes up in the morning are not working well. Gifted children often do not sleep well. Some children just do not sleep as much. There could be medical reasons why your child is not sleeping, such as sleep apnea. Signs of sleep apnea are: restricted breathing, gasping for air, and snoring. If any of those issues for your child, a meeting with your pediatrician is warranted. The children’s hospital can do a sleep study to further understand this. Anxiety: is another common sleep problem. If your child worries a lot, it is likely his or her sleep will be impaired. If your anxious child is sleepy or wakes up a lot, it is helpful to find out what he or she is thinking about before bed. Is there a test tomorrow? Are there friendship problems? Nightmares: If your child is having bad dreams and can remember them, check in to see if the dreams have any particular theme. For example, the dreams may all be about showing up late for things or unprepared, or your child may have dreams about being embarrassed or made fun of at school. These may be signs of anxiety or perfectionism. In that case, a psychologist may be able to help your child with anxiety, which will likely improve sleep.
How can I manage Sleep Problems at home?
If your child can’t sleep, the most important place to start is with is your nighttime routine. Certainly, issues can be occurring beyond the routine, but parents are well advised to initiate a nighttime ritual as the first line intervention.
- Bedtime must be consistent. Your child’s bedtime should not vary by more than an hour. If your child’s bedtime is 8:30, then 8:00 is about the earliest he can fall asleep and 9:00 is about the latest. Pushing past your child’s bedtime or requiring your child to go to bed too early is asking for trouble as it disturbs your child’s sleep-wake cycle
- Limit or eliminate light. Light signals the brain to wake up. If devices such as an alarm clock or computer with a light are in the room, they must be removed or covered up so that your child can sleep. Night-lights can be used (if necessary), but darker rooms facilitate sleep
- Limit or eliminate all screens. Yes! Screens include computers and phones. Staring at a bright, changing, or moving screen will wake your child’s brain, making it much more difficult to fall asleep. The phone should be out of your child’s room for sleep-time. Receiving updates and text messages is extremely disruptive to sleep
- Utilize ‘sleep-onset association’ tools. Sleep-onset association refers to cues in our environment that signal sleep. Cozy pajamas, warm blankets, and fluffy pillows can all become associated with sleep. Reading a story, listening to soft music, or quietly drawing can be added to the bedtime routine to help your child’s body begin to wind down. This association is why kids with sleep problems should not do homework or eat in their beds. Beds are just for sleeping. They should sleep in their beds and not on the couch. Heavy or weighted blankets may be helpful. Pleasant sounds and smells can help trigger the body’s impulse to sleep. Find ‘sleep signals’ that work for your child, and provide them consistently as part of the bedtime routine
- Keep it brief and boring. If your child comes in reporting that she can’t sleep, comfort her briefly and put her back to bed. This approach may take many attempts before she eventually goes to sleep. However, a quick and simple ‘good night, honey’ and kiss on the cheek sends the message to your child that he or she is just fine and that you will be consistent in your expectations and follow through
How can Clear Child Psychology help with Sleep Problems?
We Help You, Immediately
Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.
We Help Determine Next Steps
Our Initial Consultation allows us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s needs and determine if an assessment is appropriate.
We Build a Customized Plan
Our Assessments allow us to determine your child’s specific strengths and challenges. We can use this information to develop a customized support plan which includes: referrals
We Connect you with the Right Professionals
Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.
We Provide Ongoing Coaching and Support
Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.