Sleep Routine and Ritual
It is very common for children with anxiety to have trouble transitioning into sleep, sleeping independently, and falling and staying asleep. Most experts agree that adults and children sleep better when they establish regular sleeping and waking times (even on the weekends), and develop a routine for sleep.
It is important to help your child, with anxiety or not, to find ways to ramp down his level of physical, mental, and emotional stimulation so that he can drop off to sleep easily and naturally. As discussed in Chapter 15, an hour or more before bedtime, you can help your child to wind down by having him finish homework and computer gaming time, lowering the volume on music and television, and dimming the lights. Avoiding TV, computers, or videogames maximizes the production of sleep hormones. Reading and music can be good transition activities, but make sure that your child avoids watching or listening to anything aggressive.
Another part of the bedtime ritual for many families includes a bedtime snack. For optimal sleep, your child's snack should include a bit of protein and carbohydrate, possibly including milk or other tryptophan-rich foods, which encourage melatonin production. An example of a good sleepytime snack might be a bit of cottage cheese or yogurt and some canned, fresh, or dried apricots, or a slice of turkey on a piece of bread with a glass of milk. Avoid cocoa at bedtime; most have too much sugar and caffeine and may prevent your child naturally drifting off to sleep.
You may wish to use snack time to “check-out” with your child at the end of the day. That is, take a few minutes to review with your child how her day went. Try to focus on what went well for your child, and set up positive intentions for tomorrow. After your child has had a snack, you might want to incorporate positive imagery along with breathing and relaxation so that you can send your child off to sleep feeling relaxed and confident, rather than worried and overwhelmed. A few gentle yoga stretches before bed can also help muscles to relax easily into sleep.
Help your child let go of the day's anxieties by creating a calm and nurturing environment for sleep. Research indicates that people sleep better when a room is slightly cool, (about sixty to sixty-five degrees; slightly warmer for babies) and when their bed is supportive, but comfortable. Smaller children, especially, do well with cozy blankets, and may feel more secure if their stuffed animals, or “lovies,” are with them in the bed. Use nightlights in your child's room if he is afraid of the dark, and provide additional nightlights in the bathroom and near your room so that your child feels secure once everyone goes to bed.