How to Help a Child With Anxiety At Bedtime

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Learn how to create a calming routine, address worries, and ensure a peaceful night's sleep for your child.

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Bedtime can be a particularly challenging time for children with anxiety. The quiet and darkness can sometimes heighten their worries, making it difficult for them to fall asleep. As parents, we can take several steps to ease their anxiety and create a more calming bedtime routine.

For more tips on creating healthy sleep routines, check out our guide on toddler sleep habits.

Causes and symptoms of bedtime anxiety

Bedtime anxiety in children can be caused by a variety of factors, including fear of the dark, separation anxiety, or stress from daily activities. Symptoms may include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, nightmares, and physical signs of anxiety such as sweating or an increased heart rate. Understanding these causes and symptoms is the first step in helping your child manage their bedtime anxiety effectively.

For additional advice on creating a restful environment during the day, check out our naptime tips.

Anxiety is probably a common cause of difficulties settling to sleep at both the start of the night and overnight.
💡  KidsHealth

Fear of the dark

Many children experience fear of the dark, which can make bedtime particularly stressful. To help alleviate this fear, consider using a nightlight to provide a gentle, reassuring glow in their room. You can also create a bedtime ritual that includes checking for "monsters" together to ensure your child feels safe and secure.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is super common, especially at bedtime. A security object, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, can be a huge comfort. It acts as a little reminder of you and can help your child feel more secure when it's time to sleep.

Worries about the day

Kids often bring their worries from the day into bedtime, making it hard to fall asleep. Encourage them to talk about their day and any concerns they have. A little chat before bed can help them process their feelings and calm down. You can also try relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization to help them unwind.

Nightmares or bad dreams

Nightmares and bad dreams can really mess with your child's sleep and cause bedtime anxiety. If your child is having frequent nightmares, reassure them that dreams aren't real and that they're safe. A comforting bedtime routine and a secure sleeping environment can help reduce bad dreams.

Changes in routine

Changes in routine, like starting a new school or moving to a new home, can ramp up anxiety and make bedtime tougher. Keeping a consistent bedtime routine can provide some much-needed stability. Stick to the same rituals, like reading a story or having a warm bath, to help your child feel more at ease during these transitions.

How can I create a calming bedtime routine?

To help your child with bedtime anxiety, establish a calming and consistent routine. Include relaxing activities like reading a story, listening to soft music, or taking a warm bath. Ensure their sleep environment is comfortable and secure, using nightlights if necessary. Consistency and a soothing atmosphere can make bedtime less stressful and more peaceful for your child.

Set a consistent sleep schedule 

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is crucial for helping your child manage bedtime anxiety. Ensure they go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This regularity helps regulate their internal clock, making it easier for them to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Consistency provides a sense of stability and can significantly reduce bedtime stress.

Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual

Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual can help your child unwind and prepare for sleep. Include calming activities such as reading a story, listening to soft music, or taking a warm bath. A consistent ritual signals to your child's body that it's time to wind down. For more information on how much sleep your child needs, check out our guide on how many hours should a kid sleep. If you have a younger child, you might find our tips on establishing a ​​baby sleep schedule helpful as well.

Create a sleep-conducive environment

Ensuring your child's bedroom is conducive to sleep can significantly reduce bedtime anxiety. Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. If needed, use blackout curtains to block out light and consider a white noise machine to drown out disruptive sounds. 

A comfortable mattress and bedding are also essential. If your child is afraid of the dark, a nightlight can provide a gentle, reassuring glow. Creating a cozy and secure sleep environment helps your child feel safe and ready to relax at bedtime.

Limit screen time before bed

Limiting screen time before bed is crucial for improving your child's sleep quality. The blue light from screens can interfere with their ability to fall asleep. Aim to turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, engage in calming activities like reading or listening to soft music. 

Bedtime routines are vital for a child’s sleep quality and quantity.
💡Sleep Foundation

How can anxiety at bedtime affect my child's sleep?

Anxiety at bedtime can significantly impact your child's sleep quality and quantity. It can lead to difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, and restless sleep. This lack of restful sleep can result in daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. 

Over time, inadequate sleep can affect your child's overall health and well-being. Addressing bedtime anxiety through consistent routines and a calming environment can help mitigate these negative effects and promote better sleep.

3-3-3 Rule to help a child with anxiety at bedtime

The 3-3-3 rule is a mindfulness technique that's simple enough for young children to use at bedtime to help reduce anxiety. Here's how it works:

  • Name Three Things They Can See: Encourage your child to look around their room and name three things they can see. This helps shift their focus away from their worries and onto their surroundings.
  • Identify Three Sounds They Can Hear: Have them listen carefully and identify three different sounds they can hear. This practice can help ground them in the present moment.
  • Move Three Different Parts of Their Bodies: Ask them to move three different parts of their bodies, such as their fingers, toes, and shoulders. This physical activity can help them feel more connected to their body and less overwhelmed by anxious thoughts.

Using the 3-3-3 rule can be an effective way to calm your child's mind and ease them into a more relaxed state for sleep.

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