By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Children may turn terrible at bedtime because of sleep problems.
Children who have sleep disorders try to avoid the problems these disorders cause. If you have nightmares the bed and sleep land are not friendly places. Night Terrors get noticed by most parents because the child makes noise and wakes you up but other sleep issues may go unnoticed until the child begins acting up at bedtime.
Below are some of the behavioral changes that occur in children and occasionally in adults that indicate the problems may be related to a sleep disorder.
Long bedtime rituals can be caused by a sleep problem.
When we anticipate something bad happening most of us will put it off as long as possible. Children who experience bad dreams or nightmares will try to avoid the bed and sleep. One way to do this is to draw out the pre-bed routine as much as possible.
If you find your child is avoiding bed with a passion, look for things in the environment. Are adults still up and having fun? But if the whole house is quiet and still your child is finding ways to avoid getting into bed ask them about their sleep and about what happens in that sleep.
Bad dreams and nightmares are not something that children should have to endure. Expecting them to just “grow out of it” is not a good plan. Some children never do outgrow nightmares. Poor and disrupted sleep can result in many emotional problems.
Bedtime resistance suggests a sleep issue.
Long rituals are about what you tell yourself. All those things you need to do before you can sleep. Bedtime resistance is about what you tell or do to others. If the child resists bed like they might resist the doctor’s office then ask yourself why the bed and sleep land is traumatic rather than a friend.
Try making bedtime a positive thing, read a story, say a prayer, whatever fits for your family. If, despite your efforts to reassure your child there is still resistance, try to not dismiss this as bad behavior. Explore with your child what happens when they try to fall asleep and what happens when they dream. If there are problems consider some professional help before the problem becomes serious.
When dreamland is full of nightmares you will avoid it. If delaying bedtime does not work many folks will lie awake. Worry about the future, rumination and anxiety disorders result in not being able to fall asleep.
In another post, I talked about the problems with Insomnia Disorder.
Insomnia is a very real physical and mental disorder. It is treatable and the treatment does not have to be restricted to medication.
Avoiding sleep may be the result of a sleep disorder.
Once through the bedtime routine and into bed, there are a host of ways that children can avoid sleep. The result of this avoidance can show up in poor behavior, impaired attention or emotional regulation issues the next day.
Today electronic avoidance is becoming all too common. Some children’s bedrooms have more electronic equipment than the store. Spending all night playing games, chatting on social media and generally staying stimulated has its consequences the next day. Over time this sleep avoidant behavior adds up.
If your child starts the day off in a bad mood and you do not know why look for poor sleep habits or a sleep disorder.
Thoughts I must not sleep.
People with nightmare disorder, night terrors or just plain old bad dreams will start telling themselves that the solution is to just not sleep. Younger children may not be verbalizing these thoughts but if they are having them some exploration of the reasons can help your child move from struggling with a sleep disorder to a child who routinely gets a restful night’s sleep.
If your child avoids bed or sleep do not automatically jump to a severe conclusion. Poor sleep does not mean your child has experienced abuse or a trauma. There are plenty of other reasons they may be having bedtime issues.
If your child is avoiding bed and sleep explore the issue and get help as needed. If it is an adult that is resisting sleep you need help now. Untreated sleep issues undermine your physical and mental health.
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