Afraid of the Dark? 5 Ways to Help Children Get to Sleep

Help your child overcome nighttime anxieties and fall asleep.

Afraid of the Dark? 5 Ways to Help Children Get to Sleep

Comforting a child who can’t go to sleep because they are sure there’s a monster under the bed or a ghost lurking in a shadowy corner is a parental rite of passage. After many reassurances, several bed and corner checks, kisses and hugs, Mom and Dad cross their fingers that their little one will go to sleep. What they may not realize, though, is that these fears mask the real issue, which is a perfectly normal fear of the dark.

For some, that fear can become nyctophobia, defined as an irrational or extreme fear of the dark. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, racing heart, trembling or tingling sensations, upset stomach, sweating and more. Nyctophobia sufferers feel anxious and panicky, want to escape and feel as though they are out of control.

How to Help Your Child Fall Asleep

A fear of the dark in children, however, is usually nothing more than a simple stage of development. It usually arrives along with a child’s growing awareness of the world around them - and how it may not be the safest place to be all of the time. Imaginations and memory grow, creating thoughts in young minds that suggest that there are hidden threats in the dark. Worse yet, the darkness makes seeing threats nearly impossible, and this can strike fear in the hearts of youngsters.

There are many other reasons children can’t fall asleep, however, including simple over tiredness, separation anxiety and a simple lack of a nighttime schedule. To overcome these sleep obstacles, there are a number of tactics parents can take to lead their young ones to slumber. Here are five:

1. Create a Bedtime Routine and Stick to It

Routine is the secret to settling down a child and preparing them for bed. At least one study found that a consistent routine resolved many mild to moderate sleep problems.

Each step is a signal that it is time to rest and fall asleep. Most nightime routines begin with a bath or a wardrobe change - “Time to put on your pajamas!” - followed by teeth brushing, hair combing and so forth. After a couple bedtime stories and a lullaby or two, children are ready to close their eyes and drift off to dreamland. The biggest trick to remember? Keep the routine relatively short. Under 30 minutes, most experts agree.

2. Dole Out the Bedtime Snack

It may seem counterintuitive to some adults, since many sleep experts suggest avoiding nighttime snacking, but that advice doesn’t apply to young children. Some kids need more than three meals a day, so a light, healthy bedtime treat can help them feel full, fall asleep easier and sleep through the night. Avoid big snacks, however, which can interfere with sleep and sometimes cause restlessness.

3. Introduce Your Child to a Teddy Bear

Experts encourage parents to provide children with a security object, like a blanket or stuffed animal. Separation anxiety can disrupt sleep. The right security object can ease that anxiety and provide children with some sense of control, making it easier to doze off.

4. Create the Right Sleep Environment

One way to make sure children can fall to sleep is to ensure their bedroom environment is conducive to rest. Make sure noise is at a minimum and the room is adequately dark. Some children prefer a night light. Room temperature should be cool, but not cold. Pajamas should be comfortable, but remember that young children often kick off covers and do not have the capacity to recover themselves.

5. Stick to the Routine

If you’ve built the right routine, do your very best to stick with it. Children are likely to do whatever they can to extend their bedtime, like asking for a drink of water, an extra book or more. Do your very best to not give in to these requests. If they persist, consider working one or two into the routine. Once you have broken the routine, sleep issues could creep back.

There are a lot of reasons children have trouble falling asleep. With the right strategies and tactics, though, parents can help their kids become great sleepers.

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