Recently I engaged my attention in a sleep and kids summit. 

Without too much detail I wish to let you in on some general information, and still keep this blog brief.  If you really want to explore more about it you may find it on bettersleepforkids.com.  

Let me start with this: Anxiety before bed is the number one complaint.  I’m not surprised either! 

Keep in mind, it’s not so much their room thats the problem, it’s their imagination!

 Here are 4 reasons anxious children cannot sleep:

  1. Fears e.g. aliens, monsters etc,
  2. Death,
  3. Fear of not being able to sleep,
  4. Racing mind,

Often children who are having trouble sleeping are genuinely unable; 

to sleep, or 

to separate their feelings, or 

to switch their brain off.  

Try not to let yourself get frustrated with this.  Imagine how they feel.

Have the chat….

Ask your child, “what is the worst thing about going to sleep?”

And then encourage them to tell you more….  Telling more is the useful part of the conversation.

After you gain this knowledge about why your child is having trouble sleeping you can:

Educate your child e.g why the mind races with worries,

Teach them to change the channel in their brain e.g. if its on a worry channel, click to a channel with funny thoughts, 

Encourage guided meditation; kids love this,

….this is a nice routine to evaluate your child and what’s happening for them.

If your child is worried about not being able to go to sleep… give them permission to not sleep, encourage them to just lay there.  This takes the pressure off, or at least some of it.

If your child is afraid of death, you can teach your child that certain thoughts are not useful and you can explore why.  And then change the channel in their brain as you see necessary.

If your child has fears e.g. of aliens, you can get as much detail as possible from your child so that you can explore and challenge their mental stories.  Don’t give them the message that YOU will keep them safe, because then they think they need to be kept safe.  Instead, just let them know you are ALL safe.  

When children are afraid of monsters (or the like) we can teach them to choose which version of their life story that they wish to listen to.  This is great for kids with anxiety and OCD.

When speaking with your child, language used is important.  For example, instead of asking “what are you worried about” you may rather ask “what is your worry telling you?”  Try to narrow in on what is worrying them the MOST.  Thats right, get specific.

A fun activity to do with kids is a “monster make-over”.  Here, kids get to draw the monster in an absurd way and add funny clothes and this allows them to be more at ease and include some humour.

Fact checking is also a great tool.  By listening to children’s worries, explore the facts to determine what is true versus what is false.

There is also the “4 Door” Activity.  Here children can draw or with their imagination create 4 doors.  Behind each door they have their own story of happiness and fun (or similar) and it can be real or imagined or a mixture of both.  So the instruction to them may be…”when you go to sleep go through 1 or 2 doors and explore your favourite topics and then discuss them with me in the morning”.  This directs children’s thoughts in a positive direction.

Mindfulness is a great tool.  It teaches one to be aware.

Children need to learn to self soothe with imagery, and try not to stimulate the stress response too soon before bed.

A visualisation with a body scan often helps kids fall asleep.  

There are audios to listen to or they can learn to create their own body scan. 

Get moving!

Mindfulness is a powerful pathway to better sleep.

Mindfulness is being present in the right here and the right now.

As an idea; encourage your child to find 3 things they are grateful for.  

The negative room mate in their mind needs to be overpowered.  

Find out something new (instead of the usual things we are grateful for).  

And REALLY explore why its important to be grateful for that particular thing.

Mindfulness leads to resilience. 

So look for options in our internal world. 

Opening up to options leads to resiliency.

Yoga is also a great tool.  Useful before sleep and also in the morning.

Its useful for tiny ‘resets’ during the day.

Body scans and breathing exercises are great for before sleep to shut off the racing mind.

Another useful thing to do: Ask kids to remember something that makes them real angry and ask them to feel what happens to their body… and then to their mind…then thoughts.  Ask them to observe themselves….like they are watching themselves in a movie and see what they feel and what they think.  [walk them through it].

Listening to audios e.g. indigo dreams are good for kids because it’s content also teaches kids to sleep.

But some kids claim they are too old for indigo dreams, so using the “calm” app is also useful.

Breathing exercises are great;

in for 4 counts, 

hold for 7 counts, and 

out for 8 counts.  

This method of breathing lowers the heart rate.  

And is good for managing anxiety.

Imagery for kids works wonderful.  Visualisation and meditation can be used for any child.  

When kids are relaxed they learn better.

We can call it “balloon breath” for kids – but for teens we may need to use different language and call it “teen meditation”.

When stressed, we can calm the amygdala down by using deep breathing.

You may ask kids to imagine what it would be like to get better sleep so that they can visualise the positives.  You may also assist them to explore the positives and extend the imagery benefits.  Beware, some kids may develop secondary benefits by not sleeping!!!  Can you guess what they are??

We need to get kids to build skills.  E.g. breathing meditations throughout the day, and using an anchor.  An anchor may be “when you pass a …. Then it’s an indication you need to do your breathing exercise”.  So at night when they need to relax, it will be easier because they would have practiced.

Have you noticed that logic over fear has not really worked?  Its useful to get kids to visualise  a more ideal situation e.g. “when I can sleep better…”

Using the balloon breath, and special place to visualise is a great tool that kids love.

Darkness can make us sensitive to sound and then we hear things that alarm us. Perhaps you can create sound screening so that your child can’t hear water pipes and cracks in ceilings. Sometimes all you need is soft music until your child no longer needs this.

Further more, did you know that light from TV, screens (lap tops, tablets, phones etc) give out a blue light and this blue light stops the production of melatonin (this keeps you awake).  We need melatonin for our sleep rhythm to work smoothly.  When are these high tech companies going to solve this problem???

So its recommended that we have blue light blockers in the evening, to allow normal production of melatonin, then the bright light in the morning, to allow for a good rhythm.  Night lights are ok too if children need them.  Though I have heard some argue that night lights are not recommended because of the light.  You decide.

Thankfully there is a program flu.x (used for computers /laptops) and it turns the light temperature down.  But I don’t think there is an equivalent for phones and other tablets at the moment.  Feel free to explore this further.

There is also “good night” blue blocker light bulbs for bed side tables, just letting you know they are out there.

Be consistent with sleep routines, but I don’t believe its good to give kids melatonin because it’s a “hormone”.  It’s not necessary unless there is a medical deficiency.  Also just so you know, its a “contraceptive”.   It’s not a sleep initiator, it’s a sleep maintainer.  Melatonin should only be used for a restrictive time e.g. 30-40 days, and only if sleep routine is way out.

After a nice warm shower the body temperature decreases and then melatonin naturally is produced.

It’s a great idea to have a power down hour e.g. shower, meditation…/prayer, or whatever works for you and your family.  Times for sleep should also be consistent.

Its best to plan in advance what bed time should look like.  

The aim is to shift children from being resistant to being in acceptance.

Lack of preparation can cause stress so its best to be prepared (and this goes for many areas not just sleep, e.g. exams, projects etc).

Its also useful to have a look at each persons needs e.g. pillow, blankets, heating, cooling etc, and adjust accordingly.

When there is tension about device use, some people find it useful to create “device passes” where children earn the right to have some device time.  I’m not too much a fan of this, because I think it teaches other things, and I wonder about the consequences of this.  But that’s just me.  You do what works in your family, and in your belief system.  

Some consider screen time to be the same effect as caffeine time.  So its recommended that there should be no screen for at least 1-2 hours before bed.

It’s really important to pay attention to possible sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea.  Children may find it hard to breath and hard to sleep at the same time.  Don’t ignore your child’s symptoms e.g. snoring, excess sweating, or excessive movement during sleep.  Seek professional advice.  Restless sleeping means the child is uncomfortable and they are uncomfortable for a reason.  Even the mildest asthma can be directly related to not being able to sleep.  So the bottom line… check out all discomfort.

The food and mood connection is important and relates to gut health.  Gut biome really helps you best with your mood.  Even timing of eating has a huge impact on metabolism, sleep, sugar spikes, and more.

Its best to reassess diet, for example if it’s an option, turn more towards the mediterranean diet (involving moderate dairy and meat).  This type of diet (if compatible with individual needs) may be even better than relying on probiotics etc.

Big fat dinners are not necessarily good for sleep.  So its best to load up earlier in the day, and perhaps eat most during the morning, the course of the day, and not so much at night.

Early dinners are best and it’s also best to allow 2 hours between dinner and sleep.

Its also recommended that there should be a period of “not eating” for about 10 hours.  This aids in digestion and repair. Furthermore, dinner should not be loaded with fatty meats and lots of cheeses.  Rather its best to have lots of fibre, vegetables and lean meat.

Camomile and lavender tea can be nice rituals, as well as calming.

Cardamom in warm milk may also help with sleep.

There is no evidence however that warm milk alone assists with sleep, …not yet anyway. But I say you do what you believe in.

Some children have sensory processing disorder.

You can’t change a behaviour until you explore whats driving it.  An occupational therapist may evaluate behaviour by ‘playing’ with the child to learn about them.

Autistic children have high sensory processing.  Please note, people with high processing don’t necessarily have autism.

It’s best to help a child who is sensory uncomfortable to be more comfortable.  Deep pressure (touch) is an example of encouraging them to handle touch and thus become less sensitive to it.  

Preparing for a bed time routine for children with sensory issues may prove more useful to start 1-2 hours ahead of usual routine.  Perhaps start to ‘calm down’ with intense movement.

Weighted blankets seem to be rather useful too, and should be around 5%-10% of the child’s body weight, and for over 3 year olds.  Its great for sensory and for sleep.  The deep pressure that it offers assists children to relax more.  Note, children should be able to peel the blanket off and not lift it.

Also this may seem obvious, but for highly sensitive kids avoid scented laundry detergent especially for the smell sensitive kids.  And researching some white noise may be useful for  highly sensitive children.  Offer a sensory diet, as well as a sensory lifestyle.

A note on bed wetting:

Bedwetting is usually developmental not medical.  And it’s a problem best diagnosed after 6 years of age.  And yes most children grow out of it.  Did you know that often, bedwetting runs in the family? 

Bed wetting does not occur due to deep sleep.  It happens in light sleep too.


So I hope some of this information which I decided to bring to you ever so briefly, was useful and that you got something good out of it.  If you learned nothing new, then at least you can feel confident you are on the right track with your knowledge.  

Take care and may you have an awesome sleep!!!!….one day.

Amanda Dounis