I still remember celebrating when I was finally out of the baby and toddler no-sleep days, only to discover that I had a big kid with sleep anxiety. Once I realized the incentive of Star Wars Legos wasn’t keeping him in his bed through the night, I knew it was a bigger problem than a normal behavioral issue.
My son, now 9, has quite an overactive brain, which makes it terribly hard for him to fall asleep. And then, if he wakes up in the middle of the night, he can’t fall back asleep unless he’s with me. In my bed.
Over the years, I’ve tried a ton of things to help him get to sleep happily and stay asleep, and knock on wood, I think I’ve finally figured out the formula that works for us.
If you’ve got a child with sleep anxiety, or struggles with falling asleep and staying asleep, here are 5 solutions for big kid sleep issues that might work for you. These are not medical recommendations, so if your child is experiencing extreme sleep anxiety, it’s important to speak to your doctor.
CMP is an rstyle affiliate. Top image: Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr Creative Commons
1. Consistent bedtime routine
I always thought I was pretty good at keeping a consistent bedtime, but just having a locked-in time that everyone gets in bed isn’t enough for someone with sleep issues. For us, it also means no sugar or screens at least 30 minutes before he goes to bed. I also do my best to bring the activity level and energy down very low.
Every night, he reads aloud, then has a short chat with me about his day or anything he wants to talk about, then gets tucked in bed while listening to podcasts (his favorites are Brains On and the Story Pirates).
Whatever it is that you choose to do, I suggest that you do it very consistently, and do your best to limit screens, loud noises, and anything stimulating.
In desperation, I reached out to our staff member Lisa for help with my son’s sleep anxiety, and she suggested I try aromatherapy, as it had been working quite well for her daughter. I purchased a few doTerra oils along with a diffuser, and added the oils to his bedtime ritual, rubbing Coconut Oil and Serenity Oil on his feet (check their website for recommended amounts and other tips for kids), then putting a few drops in his diffuser. I also added a little lavender to his pillow.
I was pretty impressed with how well this helped my son get to sleep, though in my case, it didn’t necessarily keep him in bed all night long. I continue to do the oils on a regular basis, and have actually been using them on myself as well. To find the right oil combination, it does take a bit of time. I’d suggest purchasing a few different oils and playing around with them.
3. Sleeping with a sibling
After my son kept coming into my bed night after night, I did a little experiment and let him sleep with his younger sister, and surprise, absolutely no sleep issues at all. Thankfully, she enjoyed having the company and had a large enough bed (and room) to accommodate him.
It’s only recently (and only in certain cultures) where siblings sleep separately, and while I understand it might not necessarily the best choice for your family (or even a choice, if you’ve got an only child), it definitely worked for me. It was between him and me not getting any sleep, or him and me getting sleep and him sleeping with his sister, and I chose the latter.
However, since recently moving to a new home, there’s not enough room for this to happen anymore. But for an extended period of time, this worked magically.
4. Weighted blanket
I’ve been sucked in several times now by Facebook ads, but I’m 3 for 3 with all my purchases, including the recent one I made of a weighted blanket. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a weighted vest is often used with kids with sensory issues and anxiety to help keep them grounded and centered, as well as focused and comforted.
The same concept applies to a weighted blanket, so given my son’s anxiety, I figured this might just be exactly what he needs. I purchased a blanket from Weighting Comforts, and while I think I might have picked one that’s a little heavy for him (UPDATE: You can check their website to decide which is the correct weight for your older child and note that this particular company doesn’t make weighted blankets for younger children, but some other companies do), he loves it. As in, I opened the box and put it on him and he was giddy with joy. He was so excited to go to bed, which is something I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen. The blanket cocoons him quite well and wow, I can see why they’re so effective. You feel hugged and grounded, something I can actually use myself.
These are not cheap (prices start at $175), but again, if you’re dealing with massive sleep issues, it might be worth the extra expense for all of you to get a good night’s sleep. Today he slept at least 45 minutes longer (45!) than he usually does, only coming out of his room once to get help putting the blanket back on him.
5. New mattress
My kids have been sleeping on IKEA mattresses for years now, because they’re compact and affordable. But recently, I was sent a mattress from Tuft and Needle (which arrives in a box at your door, by the way) to test out for a separate feature we were working on so I decided to let my son be the guinea pig, not knowing if this would help or hurt his sleep situation.
Well, I have to say I’m completely blown away by how well it worked for him. I’m not sure whether it’s that I told him that the mattress was made for kids with sleep issues (heh), or that because this particular mattress is so much thicker and softer (a bit too soft for me, actually). But he’s been sleeping in his own bed without any issues at all since I changed the mattress.
Even if you can’t afford a new mattress at this time, I’d still suggest looking at different types of pads and toppers to see if that makes a difference in their comfort level. But given how successful my experience was with a new mattress, it could be worth the splurge. Start by going to a store and testing out the different levels of firmness or softness to see which feels best to your child. Because, can you really put a price on a good night’s sleep?