Have a Child Who Struggles With Sleep? Here’s Why (and How to Help)!

“I need a drink of water.”

“I’m too hot.”

“I’m too cold.”

“What’s that noise?”

“I need another drink of water.”

Is this what bedtime sounds like in your home? Bedtime can be challenging for many families, and not getting enough sleep can leave everyone feeling cranky and sluggish the next day. Bedtime issues are often challenging for children who have experienced trauma. Recent research shows that over 54% of children who have been adopted or are in out-of-home care have some sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, resistance to going to bed, and nightmares. We want to offer you some strategies for setting up a bedtime routine.

  • Make sure your child doesn’t go to bed hungry. Children in care often worry about food, so sending them to bed with a full stomach after a bedtime snack can help. You may also calm their anxiety by letting them know what they will eat for breakfast in the morning.
  • Consider using a weighted blanket. These heavy blankets, weighing between five and 30 pounds, can relieve anxiety and stress. The added weight is designed to produce a calming effect when placed on the body.
  • If possible, keep your child’s bedroom door open. It may be comforting for them to hear you moving about the house or chatting as they fall asleep, assuring them that they are not alone.
  • If you have a hyper-vigilant child who wakes easily during the night, white noise machines are a good option. Their “sound cocoon” can be soothing.

Along with these suggestions, continue building secure attachments during the daytime. This doesn’t happen automatically—it takes time and intention. As your bonds grow, you should be moving steadily toward fewer sleepless nights.

Recommended Resources:

From the Resource Library

  • The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D
  • Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You: Now Get Into Bed and Go To Sleep!, by Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D.
  • Sleep Problems, by Dr. Richard Delaney (DVD)

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