Insomnia is usually seen as a nighttime problem, involving trouble falling or staying asleep. However, insomnia causes daytime problems as well, such as tiredness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. If your child is not sleeping well, she may feel out of step with the world around her. Prolonged sleeplessness can cause health troubles, depression, and can even increase the potential for accidents and injury. Interestingly, the experience of insomnia has as much to do with the actual amount of sleep as it does with one's perception of not sleeping well.
Melatonin, a readily available herbal supplement for sleep, may have applications for older children with insomnia, for example, in adolescents receiving steroids for chemotherapy. Even though melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, it must be used with caution, and with a recommendation from your child's doctor.
Get Up Early
One of the simplest ways to combat anxiety is to get up earlier. Moving up your “start time” will help your body to be more ready for “quitting time” when the day is done. Depending on your child's age, you can adjust the time he gets up by fifteen to thirty minutes each day, and see how he responds after a week or so. Remember to factor in the amount of sleep your child needs by age (see Chapter 2) when balancing bedtimes and rising times. An additional bonus of awakening earlier is that the extra time can be used for exercise or yoga, meditation, organization, and ensuring a good breakfast.
Regular exercise boosts serotonin, making melatonin more available. It also tires and relaxes muscles, provides an outlet for stress, regulates blood sugar, and supports other bodily processes important to sleep. It is best to avoid exercise for several hours before bedtime, and some experts feel that morning activity boosts mood the best. If your child has insomnia, make sure she has some time to be active each day. You may want to increase the recommended exercise guidelines for your child's age, in combination with some of the other strategies in the chapter, to see if your child's sleep and overall anxiety level improves.
The Bed Is for Sleeping
Most sleep specialists agree that it is best to reserve the bed, and even the bedroom, if possible, for sleeping. If your child uses her bed for reading, studying, drawing, or play, the sheer power of behavioral patterning may make it more difficult for her to turn her mind off and fall asleep easily. Make sure your child's bed is comfortable (try laying on it yourself) and that she has cozy blankets, pillows, and other comfort items that create a nighttime oasis.
In the Ayurvedic (Indian) and other systems, honey promotes sleep, and may be a natural and palatable cure for insomnia. The general recipe is one teaspoon to one cup of water, or you can add the honey to warm milk or calming tea to enhance its effect. Remember, never give honey to children under the age of two due to the risk of botulism.
Stories and Music
Many kids find the distraction of music, books, or stories on tape an invaluable tool in falling asleep. The external focus gives busy minds something other than worry to attach to, and, if the themes or images in the audio promote serenity and relaxation, the body will respond to these cues. Guided imagery for sleep can also be very helpful, but make sure you choose a program your child will use only for sleep, and have another for general relaxation. Make sure the volume is at a comfortable level and that your child will not be startled awake by a tape player flipping off. Some children find they can go back to sleep on their own if they awaken during the night simply by turning their audio selection back on.
Adding ambient sound such as a fan, fountain, or white noise machine can help your child turn down the volume on anxious thoughts and create an external reference point which helps him to drop off to sleep. There are inexpensive sound machines available at many drug or department stores that can be set to any number of natural or created sounds. Tapes or CDs with ocean waves, crickets, or running water can also be helpful. If you are working on decreasing bedwetting, you may want to avoid water sounds, which might subconsciously affect your child's urge to urinate.