Sleep Anxiety


Sleep is a beautiful thing.  Nothing feels better than sinking into your comfy bed, closing your eyes and getting a good solid nights sleep.  It’s rejuvenating.  It’s blissful.  It’s therapeutic.  So when sleep won’t come,  life can be turned upside down.

Over the past few months my daughter has developed what I can only describe as severe sleep anxiety.  She’s never been a great sleeper but this takes it to a whole different level.

It started out pretty low key.  At some point in October she started to say that she could not go to sleep.  Not just that she wasn’t tired.  But that she could not get to sleep.  She would get out of bed a couple of times every night to tell me.  I’d give her a hug, ask if she needed anything and tuck her back in.  But then it changed.

Slowly over the next few weeks it escalated to all out hysteria at bed time.  And by hysteria, I mean a couple of hours of crying, shaking, yelling, pacing and ultimately, exhaustion.  And that goes for all of us.  Yes, I yelled.  I’m not proud of it but at some point (okay,more than one) I just lost it.  It just seemed so simple.  Get in bed, close your eyes and eventually you will fall asleep.  But yet, she just couldn’t do it.  Not wouldn’t.  Couldn’t.

I remember one night in particular when she refused to get out of the bath.  She said that getting out of the bath would mean that she would have to brush her teeth and put her pjs on.  That would mean that she would need to go to bed.  And that, ultimately, would mean that she would have to try and get to sleep.  And in her mind, THAT was not going to happen.  Thirty minutes later the bath had drained and I was sitting on the floor begging her too just step out of the tub.  Again.  Simple.  But she just couldn’t do.

It got to the point where she would pace around her bedroom saying over and over again.  “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t go to sleep.”  I would sit on her bed praying that I could find just the right thing to say that would convince her that she could go to sleep.  I tried positive encouragement, bribery, meditation apps, consequences but nothing would sway her from her stance that she couldn’t go to sleep.

sleeping girl

My husband and I were confused and desperate to understand what was going on.  To see our smart, capable little girl so upset was heart breaking.  So physically agitated that she wouldn’t even let us hold her to try and calm her down.

The emotions that have run through our little family in the past months are difficult to put into words.  We’ve been angry with each other and unsure of why.  We’ve been confused.  Why is this happening?  We’ve been heartbroken and sympathetic.  The need to comfort your child is so strong that when it is of no help, it can be devastating.

The fact that this is, apparently, quite normal in children this age is at once comforting and distressing.  Comforting in that others have solutions that have worked for them and I know that we are not alone.  Distressing in knowing that so many other kids suffer the way that my daughter has suffered.

Recently we have started to give her melatonin at bed time and it seems to have helped calm her down.  She still wakes up a few hours later though and is convinced that she has yet to fall asleep.  What must be going on in her brain to create this anxiety and confusion?

Why, you may ask, am I telling you ( and the world) all of this?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I am hoping that it will help somebody else going through the same thing?  Maybe I am hoping that it will reach somebody who can help me understand it better.

I’m not sure I can end this post with a Best Thing in Life.


9 thoughts on “Sleep Anxiety

  1. George January 8, 2016 / 6:21 pm

    I never heard of that disorder in children before but it must be terribly distressing for you as parents and your daughter. Hopefully it’s short lived.

  2. Nancy January 8, 2016 / 9:50 pm

    I feel for you – my daughter can not go to sleep on her own without me – she will stay up all night if she tries to fall asleep on her own. It is exhausting trying to help her and watch her fall asleep usually at 10 or 11 at night – no mommy time anymore for me. And then spend all the next day complaining how tired she is. Maybe we should try melatonin. I hope things bet better for you!

  3. mariner2mother January 9, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    My son has had years of poor sleep until he reached about 11 or 12 years old. He also is one of the most exquisitely sensitive people I know. Literally. His body picks up on “energy” like nobody’s business. Can you share how old your daughter is? Can you eliminate school as a source of her underlying stress/ sleep issues? I know that as my son was growing through his elementary school years, he seemed to go through growth periods, where he would be in a sort of disequilibrium of change, then he’d setting into his new normal, grow and develop some more and be out of whack again for a bit, and so on. This cycle could be months or a year at a stage. And we used melatonin quite a bit for him. The hardest time was when he was about 4 and would wake up at 2:30 am thinking it was time to start the day. It would take me 4 hours to get him back to sleep and I would be a wreck.

    As for your daughter, not knowing her or what’s up with her sleep issues, I know this might be tiring (but the alternative seems to be even worse), but can you (or your husband) sit with her as she falls asleep and put a hand or two on her? Literally hold her hand? As you do this, focus from your heart on sending her love and peace. (I took a one day class to become Reiki certified and ended up giving my son Reiki every night so he could settle down- but I believe a person can just do this on their own). Have a stuffed animal or blanky that can be a substitute for you for when she wakes up in the middle of the night. (I can’t tell you how many nights I woke up to my son standing next to my bed- ugh).

    The more your daughter spins out, the more you just love on her. Be her rock for her. It might be very challenging for you (as it will bring up your own issues and you’ve written that there is big family stress around this), but in your mind, make it the new bedtime ritual. I had years of dealing with my son having poor sleep. The biggest challenge to myself was wanting him to be different and just be able to fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. As soon as I let go of wanting something different from reality, my own stress lifted a bit. Just know in your mind that this is merely a stage that she will get over. And that you can adjust your expectations to go with her flow. If she’s half as sensitive as my son, do a quick (energetic) clearing of her bedroom to make sure she’s undisturbed as she sleeps. Say out loud something to the effect of: “Everyone get out of (your daughter’s name) room! I mean it! Get out! Leave her alone while she’s sleeping. She will be just fine.” I didn’t know it, but we literally had some curious spirits checking in on my son when he was sleeping, and it would freak him out. (I said he was very sensitive!). If this would scare her, do it when she’s not in the room. If it would empower her, do it with her.

    • bestthingsinlife1964 January 9, 2016 / 10:40 pm

      Wow, thanks for your feedback. She’s 8. She isn’t what I would call sensitive but she is very smart and a perfectionist. School is not an issue for her. She does well and has lots of friends. She’s active and very capable in all she does. Honestly she was too agitated to allow us to sit and hold her hand. We tried. We tried everything. Meditation apps, lavender oil, breathing techniques. The melatonin has made a HUGE difference. I’ve also read some articles about weighted blankets and we have an appt with my naturopath next week. I know that it will be an ongoing issue but for now we are managing it as best we can. Thanks again.

      • mariner2mother January 10, 2016 / 10:33 am

        Sounds like you are doing quite a bit. My son has sensory processing disorder, and for that reason, I made him a weighted blanket when he was about six. It’s been very well used. If you go that route and can sew, making one is not difficult. They can get a bit expensive. Anxiety in a child is a painful thing. My thoughts are with you.

  4. camparigirl January 9, 2016 / 8:25 pm

    Poor little thing! It must be so distressing for her…I am not sure if valerian is appropriate for children and in what dosage, you should check with her doctor, but it’s what I use when I am anxious and cannot fall asleep. For me, it works better than melatonin. It is not a sleep aid – it just calms the anxiety enough that, within 20 minutes, I am able to fall asleep.

    • bestthingsinlife1964 January 9, 2016 / 10:43 pm

      Funny my girlfriend who is a holistic nutritionist suggested that too. The melatonin is certainly helping but I have made an appt for her with my naturopath for next week and I will ask her about valerian. It is very distressing for her. At one point she just cried and said that she just wanted to be normal again. sniff sniff. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. Holistic Wayfarer January 18, 2016 / 9:42 pm

    The Insomnia Solution by M Krugman. Oh, you have to get it. I got mine from the library. 25 yrs of insomnia and I’ve been sleeping. He’s helped kids. The stuff is SO simple.

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