Alaska Sleep Education Center

Find a happy medium for a child afraid of the dark

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Dec 26, 2017 9:00:00 AM


We have all been there as a parent. We are warned there will be screaming, crying, and frustrating nights.

And I am not talking about a newborn baby: parents cry, too.

Seven to nine is the magic number of hours per night adults need for a full night’s rest. With a baby in the house, parents are lucky to have a few short spurts of sleep. “Nap when the baby naps.” “You will miss this time in your life; it goes too quick.” I do not relate to these cliché statements from parents who have grown children.

Maybe it is because my nine-year-old sleeps like a rock and is starting to understand sleeping in on Saturdays is her rite of passage. Maybe it is because I have a five-year-old who is still not sleeping through the night.

Yes. Five-years-old not five-months-old.

Seven to nine.

My FitBit is riddled every night with a big, pink, bold line meaning one thing: awake.

I am awake because my son is afraid of the dark. Or that is how we self-diagnosed the situation.

We tried four different night lights, two sound machines, a million sticker charts, and “scary” spray for monsters. I could go to bed earlier to account for my seven minimum hours as a full-time working mom; but who would pack lunches? fold laundry? or binge watch my favorite series on Netflix? And he is still running in no matter when I go to sleep.

The why questions remain. Why is he waking up every night running to our bedside? Why are we moving to year two of having a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor expecting a nightly visitor? Why is he waking up?

Recently in the International Journal of Obesity, children my son’s age should be sleeping a recommended 9 to 12 hours per night. If I was not receiving my 9 hours of sleep, how was he?

Children snore. No, really.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common, serious condition in adults but is a condition in children that can lead to learning, behavior, growth, and heart problems. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, symptoms and signs in children suffering from OSA can include:

  • snoring
  • long pauses in breathing
  • tossing and turning in bed
  • chronic mouth breathing during sleep
  • night sweats

Between the ages of two and eight-years-old, only one to five percent of children are diagnosed. Studies have shown if left untreated, sleep apnea in children can lead to issues later in life like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In fact, as many as 25 percent of these cases may have symptoms of OSA. Learning difficulties, behavioral issues, bed-wetting, obesity, sleep-walking, and other hormonal and metabolic problems can be the consequences of chronic fragmented sleep like OSA.

Pediatric sleep studies versus adenotonsillectomy.

Becoming more common among doctor and parents is consideration of an adenotonsillectomy to cure sleep apnea in children. Though removing adenoids and tonsils increases cross-sectional airway caliber for some patients, the absence of snoring and the adenotonsillectomy is not a cure-all for children with OSA. But if left untreated, children with OSA could be considered high risk for the surgery requiring overnight hospital observation.

A part of the high risk that is ignored by many parents is obesity. Diet and weight loss could even be needed along with dietary counseling if obesity complicates the situation preventing surgery.

For children who averaged under the amount of sleep needed a night, the International Journal of Obesity found in a 2017 study weight gain was more significant. “Kids who slept less were more likely to have trouble falling asleep - and to go to their parents’ bed at night.”

The Happy Medium?

It becomes a cyclical routine each night. Child goes to bed. Child fears falling asleep. Child is up later. Child comes into mom and dad’s room for the night. Child is moody and cannot focus the next day. Hence the cycle of tiredness and stress-eating. And it all can be correlated back to OSA.

For the parents who rather get to the bottom of the “why this is happening” versus the “how can we fix it and get back to sleeping for a seven solid hours,” what are the solutions?

  • Assess the situation. It could simply be nightmares or a recurring dream. But more than likely if you are moving into years of an issue rather than weeks, assess your child’s bedtime routine. Ask yourself the tough questions.
  • Deflecting is never the answer. Make sure to nip your child’s issues in the bud. Say no to a third drink of water. Buy the nightlight that will help them sleep. Do not sacrifice your space in bed for your child to join you every night by crawling in between mommy and daddy.
  • Talk to your pediatrician. Keep your doctor updated on your child’s sleep patterns. This is your coach to solving the problem. No, they are not available every night at 2 a.m. but you can keep a journal of the problems and report back for some options.

Whatever the cause may be, wouldn’t you rather enjoy parenthood than rely on five hours of sleep and a corner of the bed at night? I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to have a ten-year-old sleeping in my bed every night.

We are closing in on the sixth year of little to no sleep. It sneaks up when he has the sniffles but we are finding our solutions one step at a time.

First, we keep track of day-to-day life with our son’s sleeping patterns. Did he watch a show that caused him to be scared? Does he have a cold that is waking him up on his own? Are we a crutch because we provide a sleeping bag on the floor? What helps with his snoring?

Second, we talked to our pediatrician. And not just one time. We provide answers to any questions and found a few Band-Aids like a humidifier, air purifier, and nasal spray for allergies.

Third, we scrapped the sticker chart and asked him for something he would like. He requested a sleepover now that he is in kindergarten. So every night he sleeps on his own, he receives a point toward a sleepover.

And it is getting better each day.

For others, it is not as simple when you are traveling the long road to a solution. The sleep experts at Alaska Sleep Clinic are here to help. We have trained staff who help parents find treatment for sleep apnea. If you live in Alaska and have a child suffering from OSA, request a free 10-minute phone consultation with our sleep experts and schedule a sleep study.

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Topics: kids, afraid of the dark

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