Sleep anxiety can be a real problem and not just for a grown up – your kids can suffer from this too. I thought I’d share my experience as a dad helping my youngest son through this…
Tackling my son’s sleep anxiety as a non-resident parent
For a non-resident parent, tackling sleep anxiety experienced by your kids can be a difficult one. There are any numbers of things you’ve got to accept when you don’t get to see your kids on a day-to-day basis, one of the hardest is accepting you don’t have much input into your child’s everyday routine. When problems arise, with the limited quality time you have with the kids, you often only get to tackle issues on a surface level, with little time to deal with the deep-rooted cause or underlying issue. I am currently trying to manage one such problem.
My youngest boy is a worrier, and he will worry about the strangest things. At times that worry becomes stressful and he becomes anxious. He has always been a bit of a night owl, like his dad, finding it hard to get to sleep, but recently his worrying at bed time has turned into sleep anxiety.
This means when he is with me for overnight stay, he will constantly need me to pop in, cuddle him while he falls asleep, the alternative is that he’ll make himself sick. As you can imagine it impacts on his brother sleeping in the same room, my partner and of course – me. It is worse when he goes to my mothers and he gets anxious about what might happen there. The worries can range from the fear of a fire, or falling ill, to needing a drink in the middle of the night. He’ll then go on to worry about the affect of his not sleeping on others. Bless his little heart.
Now there are two schools of thought on this: the ‘man-up go to sleep’ and the ‘stop being a baby’ approach, favoured by older generations. And then there’s the more softly approach of trying to find the cause, to then manage the behaviours and reactions. The class of these two approaches are themselves a cause of parenting conflict.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a collection of emotional and physical sensations, which arrive in your body in response to certain events, such as appearing on stage, talking to a group, meeting new people. IT IS NORMAL.
It’s a fundamental evolutionary survival mechanism starting in the amygdale and hypothalamus gland in your brain. Anxiety is readying you to fight off or run away from predators, referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It causes the release of hormones that in previous times would get your body instantly ready to run or fight. Now, these manifest themselves as feelings of nervousness, on edge, sweating, increased heart rate or a knot in the stomach. Whilst uncomfortable, such sensations are normal and harmless and often subside as soon as the stress is removed. Similar adrenaline rushes happen when we go on thrill rides or do something we perceive as risky or dangerous.
Anxiety becomes a problem when the feelings you have don’t subside and much of your day (and night) is spent this way, impacting on your ability to live your life.
Anxiety disorders can be the result of a traumatic life event or because of constant high levels of work and life stress. It is almost as if the body gets used to being on red alert. The worry about worrying is also another common way in which anxiety is fuelled and maintained.
What is Sleep Anxiety?
The more you worry about not sleeping, the less you sleep and the less you sleep – the more you worry! This vicious cycle fuels the biological ‘fight or flight’ mechanism releasing the stress hormones cortical and adrenaline, explaining why insomniacs are described as being ‘tired but wired’.
Once we recognise unhealthy behaviour in ourselves, we need to break it. The approach of ‘manning up’ and creating coping mechanisms both aim to break the cycle in different ways.
I don’t have all answers, and the more I read, the more I try to understand – the more questions I have. For instance, often there is a trigger event, which can be months before the problem arises.
Coming back to my situation
Sometimes I struggle helping my boy manage his anxiety, and then there’s the added pressure of aligning with my ex-wife on this situation – which isn’t a piece of cake. There’s also balancing that with supporting my other son and of course getting on with my own life.
I have no answers yet, all I know is as your children grow, new problems come along and you have to learn new skills to support them as a parent. The feeling of being a fish out of water never goes away, just when you think you have the boat on an even keel; it gets hit by another wave. And the things I can’t control? Well, I just need to get better at controlling how I react to them and consider what I can do to help the situation, like how I can help my son. For me, knowledge is a way of taking control. I research, ask questions and write, that is where I am right now. It’s a model I would encourage other dads to follow. Your child might not suffer from a sleep disorder, perhaps it’s something else. Take it from me, knowing more about what you’re dealing with will help you father your child better.
Till next time