Guest Post: Things that go bump in the night – sleep anxiety and children 

April 7, 2014 Off By Laura TMOT

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Written by Sarah Mitchell. Sarah is a freelance writer with a passion for interior design, mental health, and always on the look out for her next challenge.  ‘Follow Sarah on Twitter’  


Anxiety and fears surrounding night time are extremely common in children; showing usually around pre-school years with some issues lasting well into adolescence.  But what causes them? What causes these sleep disturbances?
Sometimes it’s something simple such as an unsuitably supported mattress, or a poorly ‘designed’ sleep environment. Here are a few tips for helping children overcome their fears and anxieties and help you as a parent achieve a more positive bed time routine.

Create a positive sleeping environment

For adults and children alike, a positive sleeping environment and good ‘sleep hygiene’ is vitally important to a good night’s sleep. Ensure the bedroom is tidy; ensure distractions are limited if not eradicated from the room.
When it comes to the bed/bedding itself, quality is key. Ensure that your children are supported through the night with a quality mattress (this will help with their physical development and posture in the long term too), ensure bedding/duvets are the correct tog, and the room is aerated and cool before bed.  All too often children’s beds and mattresses are skimped on for “low cost alternatives”; not only will this affect their sleep, but it will affect their willingness to go to bed in the first place. (Would you want to go to bed if you weren’t greeted with a comfy mattress when you got there?)

Stick to a schedule.

Switch off the TV at a set time, wind down after dinner, and ensure teeth are brushed at the same time each night. An understanding of fixed schedules helps avoid stressful or anxiety laden uncertainty. By ensuring that your child understands their routine every night, going to bed in that way will encourage a ‘normal’ way of life.

Find the fun.

If sleeping or being in the dark is a cause of anxiety, look at ways to reduce this stress and add some fun to ‘being in the dark’. Try a game of ‘Torch tag’ or a glow in the dark treasure hunt. Sometimes, even a simple nightlight can help alleviate anxiety and ensure your child gets the rested night sleep they need. If ‘monsters’ are the fear, keep a handy can of ‘monster spray’ (some air freshener would do the job) which can help your child in a creative and soothing way.

Avoid distressing or triggering stimuli.

Video games, television shows, even some books and cartoons can trigger anxiety or distress before bedtime. Don’t underestimate things you consider ‘normal’ household items such as a newspaper. Creative minds are particularly susceptible to outside influence, so avoid any negative input that can affect their sleep or give them nightmares. Surround your children with positive calming influences.

Time to talk.

Take the time to talk to your children. Talk in the day time and create a ‘safe space’ for them to talk about their feelings. Avoid words like ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’, and try to understand them and really listen. Communication is key, as well as teaching coping/stress-relieving strategies. Reading stories about people/characters who have overcome their fears will provide role models for them as examples of coping with fear. Sometimes their fears can be triggered by a traumatic situation, and in these cases sometimes external help (talking therapies) could prove beneficial.


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