Bedtime Anxiety Disorder

Adele - posted on 11/06/2010 ( 4 moms have responded )




I am still having a problem with my son (almost 2), going to sleep at night or even at nap time. When i sit in the room he falls asleep but if he wakes up in the middle of the night and i am not there is when the screaming begin.By that time it is between 2am - 5am, i am half asleep, if i put him in my bed he falls asleep, if i leave him/keep putting him back in his bed, he freaks out.
I heard about Bedtime Anxiety, im wondering if anyone else goes through this or if they have any tip to help me.

Please help


Renae - posted on 11/07/2010




Its a very big call to say that your son has an anxiety disorder. Genuine anxiety disorders surrounding bedtime are not seen very often and are almost always associated with a past traumatic event (if not a series of traumatic events). The anxious behaviour is always displayed just as strongly at bedtime as it is when they wake during the night. It sounds to me like you are just dealing with a normal toddler with a bit of a sleeping problem.

There are a few ways you can deal with this. The first, and easiest solution is just to continue to take him to your bed. If it doesn't bother you, then it isn't a problem. However, if you choose this route, expect to have him coming to your bed for another couple of years before he happily transitions to staying in his own bed.

If you want to fix this problem, you can either use a CIO method, or you can use a gradual method to modify his behaviour. He is not yet old enough to simply be told to stay in his bed and go back to sleep, he will not understand that and will protest this new behaviour from you by crying. Remember that CIO methods usually need to be repeated every few months, whereas behaviour modification is permanent.

The first thing to understand is that your son reacts the way he does when he wakes during the night because the circumstances that surrounded him when he went to sleep have suddenly changed and the change is what scares him. It scares a lot of toddlers. If you are there when he first goes to sleep, he will expect you to be there when he wakes. Here is a bit of a plan that you can follow. If you do this, it will take about 2-3 months and you will need to be very patient. You must take things in very small steps, if you try to take too big of a step everything will fall in a heap and you will go backwards.

1- Put a mattress on his floor and sleep there all night so that you are lying on your mattress when he first goes to sleep and you are still lying on your mattress when he wakes during the night. You are doing this to establish consistency and relieve any anxiety was occuring from his night waking. You will reach a time, after about 1-2 weeks, when he is waking during the night, seeing you are still there and going straight back to sleep.
2- Once he is going straight back to sleep, instead of lying on your mattress while he goes to sleep, lean up on your elbows. Do this again when he wakes during the night. Do this for 4 days.
3- Sit up on your mattress while he goes to sleep and when he wakes up, for another 4 days.
4- Kneel on your mattress for 4-7 days, until he is accustomed to it (this is a substantial change compared to the previous steps so may take a few more days for him to be ok with it - do not move on until he is completely accustomed to it).
5- Stand on your mattress for around 7 days.
6- Start moving towards the door, a foot at a time, every 3-7 days.
7- Once you are getting up and standing in the doorway when he wakes, you can move back to your own bed. But leave the mattress there. Stand in the doorway while he goes to sleep, use a monitor so you hear him as soon as he wakes, and go back and stand in the doorway again.
8- Move out of the door so that he can see half your body.
9- Leave completely.
As soon as you reach a stage where he is going to sleep without you around at all, he will be able to go back to sleep on his own during the night. Oh and after 2 weeks of him going back to sleep on his own, you can remove the mattress.

Do not attempt to skip a step!!! The most common mistake parents make is that they think things are going so well that they can jump forward a step. Also be ready to have at least 2 regressions during the process, one half way and one towards the end (just when you think you are nearly there). A regression is when he suddenly goes backwards and reverts back to old behaviours - stick it out and just keep doing the step you are up to, the regression will last around one week. If the regression lasts longer than 2 weeks, it is not a regression, you have moved too fast. Go back to the last step that was working and try again.

Good luck and you are welcome to contact me with any questions.


View replies by

Stifler's - posted on 11/07/2010




I don't think this is a disorder. It's heaps normal for kids to wake up in the middle of the night and get scared and want to come into mum and dad's bed and to not want to take naps unless mum reads a story or pats them.

Katherine - posted on 11/06/2010




I had this problem with both of my daughtrs. Guess where they ended up sleeping? You got it, or I would not have slept. Have you changed anything? How long has it been going on?

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