My daughter is having trouble getting to sleep
Published 27/11/2012 | 06:00
We are parents to a very bright, funny, intelligent, sporty and anxious 10-year-old girl. Our daughter suffered from bullying in school last year.
To coincide with this bullying there was a tragic death of a young person in our community, which seemed to have an effect on our daughter. More recently her uncle died from cancer.
Since last December she has not been able to get to sleep. It does not matter what time she goes to bed, normal time would ideally be 8.30 or 9pm. Some nights she could be still awake at 1am and even later.
Most nights she is awake when my wife and I go to bed around 11pm. She also constantly comes down stairs with some sort of ailment or question.
She repeatedly says she has forgotten how to fall asleep. We have talked to her, promised her things via reward charts, punished her, tried herbal teas, tried relaxation CDs, tried rescue remedy sleep, begged her, got angry with her, but nothing is working.
Her schoolwork is now suffering and we are afraid her health is going to suffer also. Any advice would be greatly appreciated as we feel like we are struggling to cope.
There sound like there are good reasons why your daughter became anxious over the last 10 months. Sleep is often the first area to be disrupted by anxiety.
The physical tension we can feel while anxious, or the constant rumination of worrying thoughts, or both, can make falling asleep a real challenge.
I would suggest a twin-track approach to helping your daughter.
On the one hand I think she might really benefit from some therapy to help her to deal with the bullying and the bereavements.
I don't usually suggest therapy straight off, but it seems like your daughter has been struggling for some time with her feelings and they don't seem to be changing, despite all the talking you have done with her.
If she can process the feelings she has about the traumas she has experienced she may find that her anxieties really reduce and her sleeping should improve.
However, at this stage her sleeping may also have slipped into a habitual pattern and so, on the second track of intervention, alongside some counselling, she also needs to address her sleeping behaviours.
She sounds like she has become quite dependent on you to get her asleep. She frequently gets out of bed to come to you for reassurance and she knows that you are very vigilant about her sleeping.
While it is very supportive for her that you have tried so many things it may also have given her the message that it is someone else's job to make her fall asleep.
I suggest that you make a clear rule for her. Once she is in bed at 8.30pm, she is not allowed to get up.
Coming down the stairs regularly is very disruptive and makes falling asleep even harder.
To meet her need for reassurance one or other of you can do a checking visit on her every 10 minutes. Once she can depend on you to visit her she won't need to come visit you.
Over time, you can increase the gap between the visits.
She may currently be cross with herself that she takes a long time to drift off.
Getting upset with herself for not being able to sleep may be as much of a block to sleep as some underlying anxiety.
So, the other message to give her, gently but firmly, is that once she is in bed she doesn't have to fall asleep she just needs to rest. Being in bed is good enough.
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