|be advised | August 2016
What to do when things go bump in the night
by Chris Aman
It's embarrassing to admit this, but I really need the help! My nine-year-old daughter insists on sleeping in the same bed as my husband and me and says she has nightmares if she doesn't. We've tried putting her to bed in her own room, but she'll only wait for us to fall asleep before climbing in with us anyway. We really want to help her break this habit and sleep in her own room. What do we do?
Well this is a tough one! On the one hand, as a mother, you want to be there to comfort your child when they are hurt or scared. On the other, we want to foster independence in our children and help them learn how to cope with various life issues.
There are several ways to tackle this issue. First, make sure that her room is comfortable and add a nightlight. My daughter likes to keep a flashlight by her bed for those "just in case I hear a noise" moments. Not only does the flashlight help, she can have this present without the idea that she is "being a baby" - because that's what she associates a night light with.
Talk with your daughter about the nightmares. What do they involve? Pull them apart and give them a different meaning. Help her see that they are not harmful and that, once the fear disappears, the nightmares aren't far behind. You could also utilize imaginary story creation to reduce the fear. You could talk about how she could possibly defeat whatever is in the nightmare, have her use her imagination in whatever way she can to come up with a story in which she wins. If she is able to utilize her imagination in defeating or eradicating the nightmare, the fear often diminishes.
Create a structured bedtime routine. Have her read a happy book to you, tuck her in and even consider playing soft music or nature sounds while she falls asleep.
Help her figure out what she needs to fall asleep relaxed and with good thoughts in her mind. There are numerous relaxation techniques that can be learned and are often very helpful in getting children to sleep well.
Follow good sleep hygiene rules. No TV, computer or video games within one hour of bedtime. Provide a healthy snack choice and avoid high sugar snacks. Avoid caffeine... which includes chocolate! Make sure she gets adequate outdoor exercise; fresh air and sunshine are great sleep improvers.
There are numerous over the counter sleep aids, but at the age of 9 I would recommend not starting any of these until you've tried all of the other suggestions listed and then if, and only if, your pediatrician or primary care provider gives the ok. Just because they can be purchased without a prescription does not mean it is "safe" for everyone. Always check with your medical provider.
When she does come into your room, give her a hug, briefly talk of her nightmare, then take her back to her room and tuck her in. Let her know that you love and care for her and that there is nothing to fear. This is difficult, I know; it is easy to allow children to just crawl into bed, particularly when we are in that sleep induced state of euphoric comfort and warmth.
However, this is also where they get us -- they know we are vulnerable! A few nights of returning her to bed and losing a bit of sleep yourself will be well worth it in the long run. Not only for your marriage, but for your sleep and for her overall mental and emotional growth. She will learn very quickly that she sleeps better and that things really aren't as scary as they seemed.
Finally, if all of these things fail, take her in to talk with a professional. There may be some underlying mental health issues that need resolving. I wish you luck and a good night's sleep!
Chris Aman, MBA, MSN, APRN, NP-C, is the co-owner of Inspired Life Wellness Clinic, where she is a psychiatric provider for teens and adults. She and her husband, Jason, have six children and live in Bismarck. They enjoy outdoor activities in the summer and hibernating in the winter.