What about sleep anxiety in children?
Sleep anxiety affects almost every child at one stage of their growth development or the other, however, a prolonged state of sleep anxiety is not good for your child’s health and development.
As parents, we need to watch over the children and ensure that they are not overtaking by this condition. When kids cannot sleep, parents won’t be able to sleep, gradually the whole household becomes a tired and frustrated lot.
The major culprit of most children sleeplessness is sleep anxiety. Children have no worries for unemployment or the next house bill that will soon fall due but their anxiety may be due to the fear of the boogeyman and other mythical characters that we mentioned about in our stories or on television.
Their anxiety may also be due to the fear of the dark, separation anxiety, unpopularity in school/ neighbourhood, failing an exam, disappointing you on a set target and/or violent incidences in the environ.
Sleep anxiety comes with abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning and just like insomnia, it afflicts children with the inability to fall asleep, difficulty in staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, or waking up feeling tired. Stress or anxiety can cause a serious night without sleep, as do a variety of other problems.
Persistent sleep anxiety can impinge on the overall development of the child with noticeable traits like;
- poor concentration
- weak reflexes to instructions
- slowness and tired legs during the day
- poorer memory
- druggy naps in unusual places like a classroom where attention is required
Telltale signs of sleep anxiety in children
- When you notice your child’s reluctance whenever he or she is asked to go and sleep.
- When your child looks tired, yet will not close her eyes, or suddenly gets a stomachache or scratchy bout at bedtime in other to get more attention.
- At bedtime when your child begins to adopt “stay with me delay tactics” like asking for a glass of water, comes to knock the other room doors, cries when you leave, request for more hugs after lights-out and or says emphatically that she cannot sleep alone.
Triggers of sleep anxiety
Listed below are other signs and symptoms that should trigger your reaction against sleep anxiety are;
- Mood swings
- Reduced appetite
- Sitting up in bed
- Suddenly waking up in the middle of the night
- Talking or mumbling while sleeping
- Grinding teeth while sleeping
- Making clumsy movements
- Not wanting to go to school
- Not wanting to poop
5 Root causes of children sleep anxiety
- It is known to be the most common cause of sleep anxiety in children. Children that have been used to having their parents or guardian around them over a long time begin to have fears when they are left alone by themselves to sleep.
Getting to bed late
- It is essential that you monitor the hours of sleep recommended for children, children between the ages of 6 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, and teens need about 9 hours of sleep each night. If the children are late to bed (watching TV or doing homework), they will not have enough sleep, owing sleep debts can cause sleep disorders and anxieties.
Health & food challenges
- Children that are fed or given medications that have caffeine or stimulants could have anxieties at bedtime as a side- effects of the medications, an example of this is stimulants used to treat ADHD, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. There have also been cases of sleep disorder like Obstructive sleep apnea (snoring), Asthma (coughing) and eczema (itching) aggravating sleep anxieties in children.
- Children that are bullied in schools by other school kids or stigmatized by schoolmates, teachers and in the neighbourhood can develop bedtime anxieties. Other reasons may include poor academic, sports and presentation performances which may make them feel as if they are stuck in this trouble forever.
Hyper-activeness/Intelligence Quotient (IQ)
Children are more active than one another so also is their intelligence level, a bust of adrenalin gusto may cause sleep anxiety. Children that are hyperactive or with high IQ are often years ahead of their age and are more aware of their surroundings and the threats therein. This level of sensitiveness could lead to anxieties due to a positive or negative perspective of life and their environment.
Immediately you observe some indicators or symptoms of sleep anxiety in your child, you need to observe the child very well and narrow down to the main cause behind the problem. The sleeplessness and anxiety of your child may be due to separation anxiety, or because of being upset with some school bullies or other environmental concerns?
There are so many approaches to bringing solution to this challenge and I have listed a few of some tips that you can adapt to arrest the situation.
As much as possible you should have a pre-bed or “settle to bed” routine that the children will abide with, you can always tweak it to fit the peculiarities of your family. A typical schedule may consist of dinner, last fluid intake, when to brush the teeth, a warm, relaxing bath before bed, using the bath, pillow talk time etc. This can also go a long way toward easing your child into sleep.
You need to be the hero in your children’s life, tell them bedtime stories and wise sayings that will refocus their mind and thought. Through this you can eliminate worrying thoughts off their mind and guide them to give their cares away, there is the high chance that in the course of the bedtime talk that they will open up to you on their imaginations and concerns. The act of listening to them can dispel their worries and give confidence to them. Let the story time not be too long (15 minutes is not a bad idea) and do not allow whining about “don’t leave” or “sleep with me all night.”
Limit fluid intake
You need to also watch the amount of fluid and the time you serve dinner to your children to ensure that they digest the food early enough and use the toilet before settling in bed. This is particularly important for kids that are bedwetting. A common sleep distraction is getting up in the middle of the night to urinate. Give them the reasons why they should not drink fluids after dinner and use the bathroom before bed.
Avoid stimulants and allergies Monitor the content of drinks and snacks that your children take. As much as possible avoid caffeine based drinks, energy drinks and other hidden stimulants in chocolate. You should know the kind of food or drinks that your children take that gets them uncomfortable and rolling for hours. Anxiety and sleeplessness are twin problems that can be due to side effects of many medications, including over-the-counter cold medications and ADHD medications. Always contact your pediatrician on such medications.
TV, movies and video games can work up the emotions and excitement of kids to a level that it takes a while to bring down particularly if it is too close to bed. Research has also shown that the light emitted from screens of all types and sizes actually blocks the production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Therefore, it’s best to cease all screen usage at least one hour before bedtime, if not more.
For a child that has sleep anxiety, a comfortable, serene, sleep-friendly room that is devoid of disturbance is essential. You can add some creativity to the bedding and colors (like greens, blues, and other mixes). Clutters and unnecessary hangings (toys, cloths, snack packages etc.) do form wings that scare children in the night, try to put these away. The room can be moderately scented with healthy, non-choking, friendly air fresher flavor. The ambiance in terms of temperature, noise level and soft lightning should not be compromised.
Home physical exercises
If your children are not the very active types, then you need to design some home exercises and physical activity during the day that will sweat them up, relax their muscles and help them fall asleep much faster. It is recommended that this should be early enough at least two hours ahead of bedtime. Some exercises can be; basketball, hide-and-seek, walks and bike rides, trips to the park and dance classes.
Consult with your paediatrician
In conclusion, you need to contact your primary care paediatrician in respect of your child’s sleep problems. He would have the necessary experience to identify the medical roots of your child sleep anxiety or sleeplessness. He will prescribe accordingly to fix root causes like; sleep apnea, allergies, snoring, medication side effects, and much more. Your paediatrician can also provide anxiety medications (melatonin supplements) and may be able to treat uncomplicated anxiety without a referral to psychiatry.
Sleep anxiety is real in the lives of children and as parents, we need to be vigilant and steadfast in confronting this daunting challenge and ensure that it does not sap the energy denature our children, break their confidence.
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