Published on 06 October 2022

Sleep Anxiety In Children: Find Coping Techniques

Anxiety in Children sleep-anxiety-in-children
Table of Contents

Sleep anxiety in children is a common issue that affects many families. It can lead to behavioral problems such as wakening up in the middle of the night.  

Often this anxiety is rooted in irrational fears or worries that can include nightmares, darkness, monsters, and other scary things. As with all forms of stress, it is essential to help lessen its effects on your family life. Creating a bedtime routine that includes calming activities like reading stories, discussing happy memories, and offering lots of love and reassurance before turning on the lights may be helpful. 

Parents should also watch for signs of sleep deprivation, such as irritability, increased daytime napping, and trouble concentrating during the day. Treatment might include cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises to help children manage their fears at bedtime.

What is Sleep Anxiety?

Sleep Anxiety is a kind of fear or worries about going to sleep. You may be concerned about not being able to fall asleep. It's like stage fright, but for sleeping. And for some people, sleep anxiety can become so severe that it starts to get in the way of daily life. 

In Somniphobia, people experience extreme fear or anxiety around sleep. In this type of phobia, people think that something terrible will happen to them while sleeping or that they should stay awake and alert.

Typical Thinking Pattern Of Sleep Anxiety

Following are some thinking patterns during sleep anxiety.

  • I'll be awake for hours before I can fall asleep
  • I'll wake up a lot during the night
  • I'll be tossing and turning all night long
  • I'll only be able to get a few hours of sleep
  • Is there something wrong with me? 
  • I'll be so tired tomorrow that I won't be able to function
  • I'm a terrible sleeper

Symptoms of Sleep Anxiety

Following are some symptoms of sleep anxiety that can be seen in children. If these symptoms affect children's minds badly, contact your physician soon.

  • Children may face trouble falling asleep
  • They may not be able to concentrate
  • Gastrointestinal issues may arise 
  • Frequent night terrors and nightmares
  • Difficulty staying awake during the day
  • Snoring
  • Unusual events during sleep, such as sleepwalking
  • teeth grinding
  • Bedwetting
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning

Physical Symptoms Of Sleep Anxiety

Like many other types of anxiety, sleep anxiety also has physical symptoms. For example, when you're feeling anxious, you might experience;

  • Fast heartbeat,
  • Physical restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • shallow breathing,
  • Upset stomach

Sleep disturbance has been frequently observed in children and adults with Anxiety disorders; for some children, sleep problems will result from poor habits and hygiene; for others, it may represent an initiator or preliminary expression of a more serious emotional disorder. 

What Causes Sleep Anxiety?

When you have anxiety, it will trigger your body to release hormones that make your mind react quickly to escape harm. Children may experience fear or anxiety in everyday situations like going to school or falling asleep every night. There are various causes of stress in children which may harm their sleep:

  • Unresolved sleep issues for a long time
  • Overthinking and over-worrying about minor things, 
  • Nightmares 
  • Fear of dark places
  • Disturbed family background 

Older school-aged children who are overachievers in school struggle with sleep more than average children as they have high expectations of themselves. They constantly worry about how lack of sleep will hurt their work.

Stress and anxiety cause our bodies to discharge certain hormones; Children with chronic anxiety might constantly feel pressure and worry. Significantly high levels of hormones before sleep will make it hard to relax, which causes difficulty falling asleep. It is possible that even after falling asleep, you can get disturbing thoughts.

Research suggests that anxiety may affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In REM sleep, children tend to have vivid dreams. Even they get nightmares due to these dreams causing them to wake up at night.

Can We Diagnose Sleep Anxiety?

The answer is yes!! To get diagnosed with Sleep Anxiety, a healthcare provider will perform a physical exam where they review your medical history and classifies your symptoms accordingly.

They will ask you these questions:

  • Usually, do you eat or drink anything before bed?
  • Does your anxiety appear before going to bed?
  • How much time is required to fall asleep?
  • Do you wake up at night? How often?
  • Do you perform any activities before going to bed? What are those activities?

Treatment for Sleep Anxiety

Proper treatment can be a good option for your child to get out of sleep anxiety. Following are some treatments are given which effectively overcome sleep anxiety.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT):

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT-I can be used if a child has constant sleeping troubles. It will teach them about managing their anxiety. Dr. Nash said CBT-I is more effective than medication in treating sleep Anxiety. 

Depending on the child's needs, a sleep therapist will recommend some CBT-I techniques, such as: 

  • Stimulus control therapy: This therapy helps to remove factors that prevent sleep. 
  • Sleep restriction: This treatment will reduce the time you spend in bed.
  • Sleep hygiene. It is necessary to change essential lifestyle habits, which may affect our sleep-wake cycle. Sleep hygiene can be very effective in children as it will help them maintain routine activities while reducing their anxieties.
  • Sleep environment improvement. When you create a comfortable sleep environment, such as keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and calm, it becomes easier to fall asleep.
  • Relaxation training: Different relaxation techniques, including meditation, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, healing, etc., will help to calm the mind and body. 

Medication For Sleep:

Sleeping pills, such as Ambien and Sonata, and other medications, are prescribed to deal with sleep problems. Antihistamine Atarax, the antidepressant Desyrel, and the high blood pressure medicine Catapres are sometimes prescribed.

  • Antidepressants: Trazodone (Desyrel) is an antidepressant for sleep Anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines: Some drugs stay longer in the system and can help treat insomnia symptoms. They are sleeping pills--temazepam, Restoril), triazolam (Halcion), and others.
  • Doxepin (Silenor) is an approved drug for people with trouble sleeping.

Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Lemborexant (Dayvigo), Ramelteon (Rozerem), Suvorexant (Belsomra), Zaleplon (Sonata), and Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo) are some of the medications which can be used to treat Sleep Anxiety in children.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Making some sleep habits that can improve your health is necessary. Experts suggest that every person should get atleast 8 hours of sleep daily to be physically and mentally healthy. Following are some tips you can add to your routine.

Make sufficient sleep a family priority

Understand that making sleep your preference will set an example for your kids. Staying up all night and doing work will not send the right message.

Keep to a regular daily routine

Having the same waking, meal, nap, and play times will help the child feel safe and comfortable. For younger children, you can start using early bedtimes such as brushing, reading books, and going to bed.

Create a sleep-friendly home environment

Dim the lights before bedtime and keep the room temperature appropriate for your children. Don't keep many toys around them. Only one or two things, like a blanket or a favorite bear, the doll can help ease separation anxiety. 

Sleep problems can be recognized

Sleep problems like night terrors, waking up at night, and difficulty falling asleep snoring, can be identified by parents. After all, it's their's responsibility to make children feel relaxed.

Avoid overscheduling

Even if it is necessary to have a healthy sleep routine, don't overschedule it. For example, Don't make your child indulge in additional activities like sports games, appointments, or lessons apart from homework. It can become challenging for children to get regular sleep, which may put much pressure on them.

How To Help Children Who Have Trouble Sleeping?

Talk to your child

Talking to your child about better sleep is an effective way to ensure they get a peaceful rest. Explain why it's essential to set boundaries around bedtime and stick to them, such as winding down the evening with calm activities like reading or listening to music instead of watching TV or playing electronic games. 

Ensure your child knows that good sleep helps their physical health, mental health, emotions, well-being, and even school performance. Finally, remind your children that feeling sleepy doesn't mean something is wrong with them; instead, it means their bodies need rest.

Make them a habit of sleeping well

A habit of good sleeping can be a great way to help your little ones develop a healthy sleep routine. It involves helping them understand when it's time to go to bed and encouraging positive behaviors around this time. For example, if your kid is having a problem settling in the evening, you might remind them that it's time for bed or provide incentives such as stickers or a special toy. Additionally, creating consistent cues like telling a story or other relaxation activities can help ease your child into a calm state of mind so they can drift off to sleep more easily. 

Validate fears and anxieties

Validating children's fears and concerns about sleep can be a helpful way to treat their sleeping problems. Listening to and validating their feelings builds trust to establish an environment where children feel safe to express their emotions. An essential part of the process is teaching kids calming techniques they can use before bed, such as deep breathing exercises or guided visualization. 

Ultimately, validating fears provides kids peace of mind and builds their resilience in learning how to manage anxiety independently.

Create a routine

Starting by setting a consistent bedtime and ensuring your child gets the same amount of sleep every night regardless of having friends over, going on vacation, or something else can provide security in their daily schedule. A calming evening routine involving reading books or baths can also encourage relaxation. 

No screens before bed

Screen time before bed can negatively affect sleep quality, especially if children cannot escape the blue light and distractions they find in front of their screens. This exposure interrupts natural Melatonin production and can lead to overthinking, keeping them up at night. Implementing no screens before bed is essential to combat these issues and foster better sleeping habits to improve well-being.

Bottom Line From Practical Anxiety Solutions

Sleep Anxiety is common among children as various factors like school, homework, other activities, and social environment affect their thinking. Parents should set a specific timetable for their children's daily activities, meals, and bedtimes so it would be easy for them to get a suitable time to sleep. 

Still, the children may not follow these routine activities at a particular time. Parents must understand that their children try hard to achieve it but cannot. Rather than punishing them, parents should act as role models for their children by telling them the importance of daily routine.