What should I do if my child fears going to sleep?

It would be helpful to know when her fear of being unable to sleep surfaced and whether anything stressful or different from her usual routine occurred around the same time.

Q: Over the last few months, my 10-year-old granddaughter has developed a fear of sleeping at night.

Her fear would keep playing on her mind from the time her head hits the pillow at about 10pm until near midnight. She would sob every night and request for prayers to be said.

We have tried ways and means to distract her from such thoughts, including letting her view videos, reading her books, as well as talking about the activities of the day with her. But all these measures have been to no avail.

We are at a loss. Please advise us on what we can do.

A: Your 10-year-old granddaughter has features of anxiety related to being unable to sleep.

These features appear to be more related to her feelings of being anxious than to being unable to sleep.

What is your granddaughter's outlook on things? Does she tend to see the cup as "half empty" or "half full"?

Is your granddaughter generally a more anxious child than other children?

For instance, does she worry more about things, such as about doing well in school, than other children?

Is she fearful that she cannot sleep and will be too tired the next day in school? Are there other things in her home or school life which are stress-inducing?

It would be helpful to know when her fear of being unable to sleep surfaced and whether anything stressful or different from her usual routine occurred around the same time.

I would advise you to take your granddaughter to see a clinical psychologist, a child psychiatrist or a developmental paediatrician to better understand her underlying reasons for the fear of sleeping.

Your granddaughter is likely to benefit from some sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy. These sessions are usually conducted by a psychologist.

Cognitive behavioural therapy involves identifying the thoughts that cause a person to behave in a certain way and then using techniques to change these thoughts, thereby modifying her behaviour.

For instance, your granddaughter can learn some simple steps to take her mind off sleep and use visual imagery (such as imagining she is relaxing in the pool or at the beach) to help her to relax and reduce her feelings of fear.

Dr Jennifer Kiing,
consultant at the division of neurodevelopmental and behavioural paediatrics at University Children's Medical Institute at National University Hospital


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