My son has been the worst sleeper since the day he was born. I remember being in the hospital with him. When I laid him in the bassinet, he cried incessantly. He wouldn’t sleep; he wouldn’t relax. I would pick him up, and he’d settle down and snooze away.
When he was an infant, I tried swaddling, shushing and lullabies — to no avail. I read all of the baby books about sleep and limped along.
This trend continued for many years. He wouldn’t fall asleep on his own or stay asleep through the night. His wake-ups were always early. He had trouble with both falling asleep at bedtime and falling back asleep in the middle of the night when he would wake up.
Honestly, my son’s sleeping difficulties have been one of my biggest challenges of motherhood. The intense sleep deprivation and general frustration I’ve felt over the years have been difficult to manage.
Over the last nearly 13 years, my son and I have tried so many things to help him relax, feel safe and sleep well. Below is my entire list of tricks and tips for the reluctant and anxious sleeper. In today’s topsy turvy world, maybe your littles are also having trouble sleeping due to stress and anxiety. I hope that one of these ideas will help your son or daughter feel safe and sleep well.
We never went with the traditional plug in night lights. We’ve used groovy lava lamps or fish tank simulators. Your kiddo may love having a special bedtime light in their room. Or, alternatively, your child may not like night lights. In that case, turn the lights off and make their room a cozy sleep cave.
White Noise Machine
My son was so distracted by any noises outside of his room. If I tried to shower, wash dishes or watch TV while he was in bed, it would wake him. A white noise machine was helpful at blocking those sounds so he could rest peacefully and I could have a few minutes to myself.
Memorize a Saying or Verse
I put a large vinyl sign of a Bible verse on my son’s bedroom wall that he memorized and recited like a mantra when he was feeling scared or anxious. What is something that gives your child confidence and peace? It may be a verse from a song, a family saying or stanza from a poem. Consider putting up something that they can read — and repeat — while they are waiting for sleep to come.
Teaching Visualization & Meditation
When my son got a little bit older, I taught him how to practice visualization. At night, his mind would fill with worries and fears. Instead of giving into all of those wild thoughts, I helped my son by sharing a peaceful story for him to follow. One night, we might be at the beach, watching the waves and feeling the sun on our faces. Another night, we might be watching the gently falling snow from the safety of our home. Deliberating placing your mind in a peaceful scenario is a helpful skill to learn at any age. This site has lots of free guided visualizations if you’re not sure where to start.
There is power in our breath! The very simple act of thinking about and focusing on our breath brings peace to our brains and bodies. Practice this with your child for just a short time at first and then go for longer periods of time.
Calming Music or Nature Sounds
I love this CD set of nature sounds, and my son has played it a lot. A quiet, familiar playlist of lullabies may be calming for your son or daughter.
My son’s primary love language is touch. So, it makes sense that having special touch at bedtime helps him to feel calm, safe and loved. His favorite type of touch is having me sketch out a pretend garden on his back with my hands. I pretend to plant trees and veggies, simulate the sun and rain, water the garden, and eventually pick all of the items for a harvest. The only rule is that he must lay still for this activity. The gentle touch and quiet story provide a few minutes of connection and relaxation.
Special Songs or Secret Hugs
Since my son was a baby, I’ve sung the same song to him at bedtime every night. And now, even when he’s going on 13, he still wants me to sing this song to him nightly. Find something special just between you and your child that signals that it’s time to rest, and make it part of their bedtime routine.
Stuffed Animals, Lovies or Blankets
Most kids have their favorite cuddly toy or stuffed friend. Make sure that security item is tucked in with them every night.
In the past couple of years, a stress-relieving item has become very popular: the weighted blanket. Do they work? This article says that they help lots of people, including children. Be sure to select one that is only 10% of your child’s weight.
Close the Door
My son went through a phase where he was seeing scary things in the hallway outside of his bedroom. Our simple fix for that was to close the door, leaving it open just a crack. What an easy fix for his anxieties.
Diffuse Calming Essential Oils
My son is a big fan of lavender and how calm it makes him feel. You can purchase an inexpensive oil diffuser or simply use lavender scented body lotion at bedtime. Even a drop or two of oil in the bathwater can signal to the brain that it’s time to relax. Other relaxing oils and scents are vanilla, geranium, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, and bergamot. Try them out and see which ones your child enjoys and finds the most soothing.
One day, together with your child, design a door hanger that they can place on the doorknob outside of their bedroom door every night before they go to sleep. They can get creative and make it whatever they want it to be. Before you go to bed each night, remove the door hanger and place it somewhere in their room where they can see it. That way, if your child wakes up during the night, they can see that you checked on them while they were snoozing. This gives your child a great sense of security knowing that they are being watched over, and you’re always nearby.
These are just the things that my son and I have tried to help reduce his nighttime anxiety.
What are your go-to solutions for helping your child sleep well?