Bedtime Routine for Children with Anxiety
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Why A Bedtime Routine is Important for All Children
We all know bedtime routines are important for children. The science clearly points to early bedtime as the best way to establish longer and healthier sleep for children. I have discussed sleep with the sleep specialists at Seattle Children’s Hospital and read stacks of books and countless articles.
Well-rested children are happier, healthier, and the entire family unit functions better. Unfortunately, for some children (especially children with anxiety) developing good sleep patterns can seem like a monumental task.
It has been a long, slow process with Apollo and he still doesn’t go to bed on his own (or sleep through the night consistently), but things are getting better.
Apollo’s Story of Anxiety and Sleep Issues
Apollo has never, ever been a good sleeper. I can tell you the exact day it all went down and his anxiety began: January 18th, 2012. He awoke from his MRI (his second time under anesthesia in less than a month) with anxiety. After his first heart surgery March 7th (he was 21 months old) he was terrified of sleep. Just hearing words like “bedtime” “brush your teeth” and “pajamas” would send him into a panic. We have been working on his bedtime routine and anxiety ever since. It has been a long, slow, uphill battle.
Right now we have a system that is far from perfect, but works.
Tips to Establish a Bedtime Routine for Kids with Anxiety:
1. Have a calm down routine.
All kids love routine (deep down) and kids with anxiety absolutely thrive on routine. Let your child know what is happening and when. You may want to post a schedule or pictures if that helps your child. Reading is Apollo’s favorite way to wind down at the end of the day.
2. Slowly wind down.
It often helps if your child can slowly wind down in the last hour or so before bedtime. Ideas for this area bath (if your child finds that relaxing), books or a quiet toy. Roughhousing is out and so screen since the light from the screens can actually inhibit melatonin production.
Speaking of melatonin, Apollo takes it, as prescribed by his doctor. He has never had any nightmares or negative effects from it. We use OZzzz’s Sleep Aid for Children. It contains only .5 mg of melatonin and 2 mg or chamomile.
3. Have a soft night-light.
Too much light can inhibit melatonin production but a soft light can help a child with anxiety relax. I bought this adorable Twilight Turtle out of desperation one day. It has a soft glow and projects stars onto the ceiling.
4. Have a Hygiene Routine
It is important to establish good hygiene routines when your kids are small. Apollo brushes and flosses his teeth, goes potty, and puts on his GoodNites. (All of our kids have wet the bed at his age. We have had amazing progress using bedwetting alarms on our kids if you want to go that route.)
You may also want to give your child a massage with lavender baby lotion.
5. Be Patient
We have been working on Apollo’s sleep routine for years, now. The steps seem small, but when I look back I can see the progress he has made. He is no longer afraid to sleep. Despite struggling with an oral aversion, he now brushes his teeth. And, he sleeps all night about fifty percent of the time.
And of course, these years really do come to an end…Adalia lives in New Zealand and Judah is away at university. Someday, Apollo will either sleep through the night or move out of the house. Either way, I’ll finally be getting my sleep!
Recommended Reading for Children with Sleep Anxiety:
What to Do When You Worry Too Much is an interactive self-help book designed to guide 6-12-year-olds and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Engaging, encouraging, and easy to follow, this book educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change. It includes a note to parents by psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.
Anxiety Relief for Kids provides quick solutions based in evidence-based CBT and exposure therapy—two of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. You’ll find a background and explanation of the different types of anxiety disorders, in case you aren’t sure whether or not your child has one. You’ll also learn to identify your child’s avoidant and safety behaviors—the strategies your child uses to cope with their anxiety, such as repeatedly checking their homework or asking the same questions repeatedly—as well as anxiety triggers that set your child off.
You may also want to check out this infographic about 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep.
Do you have any kids with anxiety? What does your bedtime routine look like? Are you a “lay down with them” parent? Or a “tuck them in and leave the room” parent?