My 7-year-old daughter has always slept in her own bed, going to sleep each night watching TV. Occassionally, she would wake up and come to our bed, but is normally a good sleeper and goes to sleep fairly quickly. For the past 4 nights, after we tuck her in and leave the room, she appears to be going to sleep. Then, suddenly she starts crying uncontrollably and acting very confused and scared. We have asked her over-and-over what is wrong and she just says she doesn't know. We have asked her if she is having trouble with kids or adults at school or in her after-school program, and we've asked if she is sick or hurt. She finally said last night that she was afraid but she doesn't know of what. She also said she was strangling and when we asked how, she said she doesn't know because she doesn't know what that means. Each time we finally calm her down, she seems to be falling back to sleep, then wakes crying and afraid again. We're extremely confused and concerned about what could be going on. Do you have any suggestions??? Thank you!
The pattern you describe indicates that your daughter's behavior of late is not generated by emotional or psychological variables. When a child exhibits delayed sleep onset it is sometimes associated with stress, strain or worry. But what is happening to your daughter indicates that the problem is not delayed sleep onset, but interruption in her gradual 'descent' into sleep. Depending how long she has been sleeping when the episodes happen, they could be a version of so-called night terrors (another phenomenon related to the cycles of sleep). If you'd like to read a bit about this, take a look at Richard Ferber's very helpful book, Solving Your Child's Sleep Problems. The best way to respond to your daughter's behavior is simply to gently guide her back to sleep. As an aside, it would be wise to stop the practice of having her fall asleep with a television. If this continues, she will only cement the necessity of having the television available
Thank you for your response and advice. Since my 10-year old son experienced night terrors when he was younger, I can see some of the same symptoms(though his was more extreme). However, my daughter has now started refusing to fall asleep. She will lie in her bed with her eyes wide open. She cries off and on, and gets out of her bed to come down stairs crying sometimes. She said she was afraid of things in her room, like a clown toy (which has been in her room for about 2 years). I removed the clown and asked if there was anything else that she wanted to remove and she did not. But, she's still crying and fighting going to sleep. She doesn't cry as much, if we check on her about every 15 minutes, but she still won't go to sleep and clutches her bible and stuffed animals. This is very difficult for her (I know she is actually afraid and I know she is getting enough sleep), and for the rest of us. I hate to think that she's laying there truly afraid of something, but I don't know what to do to help her. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!
Stick with what you're doing for a while longer - I imagine you'll continue to see progress. These patterns take a while to resolve themselves - it's a gradual process. It's not out of the question at some point to consider medication to help your daughter achieve sleep, but I definitely would not do this at this point.
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