Is lack of sleep making your anxious kids worse?
Almost every anxious child I treat in my therapy practice has sleep issues. This is not a freaky coincidence. Child anxiety and sleep deprivation are best buddies. They feed off of each other. They like to snuggle up and keep each other warm. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on most children’s mood, but it can make anxious kids implode!
It is a vicious cycle that gains momentum as time goes by. Worries keeps anxious kids up. It keeps them checking under their beds and staring at dark shadows. It keeps them obsessing over worries. It keeps them hyper vigilant and pumped full of adrenaline.
Sleep and anxious kids do not mix. Ask any exhausted parent of an anxious child.
When anxious kids start their day with only a few hours of sleep, they are exhausted, irritated and more vulnerable to heightened levels of anxiety. This ironic cycle seems almost cruel. The last thing children with anxiety need is more anxiety!
So how do you stop this vicious cycle and give your child the upper hand? You start by stacking the deck in your favor. You tackle the issues that are causing your child to not get enough sleep. You break up the relationship between sleep deprivation and anxiety. They shouldn’t be friends anyway, right?
For starters let’s cover the obvious:
Anxious kids need a sleep schedule. Make a bedtime and stick to it, even on weekends if possible.
Make a bedtime routine. Routines are comforting and will help your child transition to sleep better.
Now for the true issues…
#1. Uncover Any Fears in the Bedroom
Sit in your child’s dark bedroom and ask them what scares them the most at night. Get rid of scary shadows, innocent toys that turn spooky at night and black spaces that freak your child out.
Close closet doors, remove scary dolls and everything and anything you can think of to make the room feel safer. Don’t try to rationalize your child’s fears at this point, just remove what is triggering.
#2. Prepare the Brain for Sleep
Kids with anxiety often fill their bodies with cortisol and adrenaline as bedtime looms closer. Especially if they are overwhelmed with nighttime fears.
Help your child by taking these steps:
Unplug your child from technology thirty minutes before bedtime. Bright screens can alert your child’s circadian rhythm that it is still daytime. They don’t need that!
Use sound machines or relaxing music to help your child move into a state of calmness. It also helps block out any noises that might trigger your child’s anxiety. Many families I work with will also use guided imagery CDs for children.
Use lavender spray on your child’s pillow to encourage relaxation and a fitful sleep.
#3. Help Anxious Kids Develop a Sleep World
Bedtime is anxiety’s favorite time of the day. When else can anxiety have your child’s full attention? The stage is set. All is quiet. Your child is a captive audience. Worry after worry is presented to your child. Noises are misinterpreted. Words from the day are analyzed. Mysterious aches are misdiagnosed.
Your child needs help blocking out these nighttime worries that can quickly spiral out of control and cause sleep deprivation.
Teach your Kids Visual Imagery
Ask them what their favorite thing is and create a world around it. Many kids I work with choose a candy world. Older kids like forest or ocean worlds. Have them describe their world. What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like? The more real the world becomes, the more effective it will be at night.
Have them create a few activities in their new world. Do they go play with their rainbow puppies? Do they ride up the candy rainbow to sit on the cotton candy clouds? Do they paint the houses with colored frosting?
Each night before they go to sleep, have them close their eyes and tell you a bit about their world. You want them to always visit the same world so it becomes easier and easier to imagine.
As time goes on you can just prompt your kids to “go to their world” when you put them to bed. This will help distract them from their worries and put them in a relaxed state of mind for sleep.
Sleep deprivation can impact us all, but unfortunately, it can throw anxious kids into a tailspin. Take these steps to ensure your anxious kids feel safe and their minds are busy. This can help minimize the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and anxiety – a nasty duo for sure!
How does your anxious child act when they don’t get enough sleep? What do you do to help them? Share with us on Facebook!
Do you know someone who struggles to get their anxious kids to sleep? Share these tips with them.