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My 7 year old daughter has always been an excellent sleeper, she has never had any trouble dropping off to sleep, even when we have been away and she is sleeping in a different room.

Recently she has got herself into a pattern of worrying about not being able to sleep, which stops her from going to sleep. As the night goes on she gets more upset about not being able to sleep and gets over tired. The result is that she is getting off to sleep 1 or 2 hours later than normal.

Once she gets off to sleep, she sleeps happily until the morning. It is happening 3 or 4 times a week.

This is a vicious cycle, due to its negative reinforcement. I'm not sure how best to break the pattern?

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5 Answers

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My suggestion is to focus less on "sleep" and more on "bedtime". Bedtime is time to be in bed, be quiet, and get ready for tomorrow.

When she asks "what if I can't sleep", tell her not to worry, and if she can't sleep, to say some prayers, or talk to her doll, or think about the stars, or just about anything that doesn't bother the rest of the household. Have some activities available for her, in her space, that aren't going to wind her up and that she can do on her bed. Books are good.

I would also start digging more about what in her life is causing anxiety. At 7 she is in school, and social pressures are starting to build. Perhaps she is worried about being ready for tomorrow .. about her lunch or her clothes or her homework. Kids worry too.

Among other things, this will teach her some strategies for dealing with her own anxiety, which is also good. It will also start her down the path of managing her own sleep.

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+$0.02 . . . when i get these "what if i can't sleep" what if questions, i always pop the other side on them. "what if you CAN sleep? Then what? Then you'll sleep and wake up like normal. My kids always respond like "huh... i never thought of that" and then suddenly the positive outcome is an option and a goal. –  monsto Mar 12 '12 at 4:24
    
+1 for encouraging her to simply be comfortable being in bed and NOT sleeping. –  Meg Coates Mar 12 '12 at 13:06
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I've found that when my kids are having sleep issues, of some sort, the approach that works for us, is to have them be super active during the day. When bedtime comes they are so tired that whatever the issue is, doesn't surface because they're asleep very quickly.

We'll keep this pattern going for several days to re-establish a new pattern and it has been effective.

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You may already be doing this, but one common and effective technique is to establish a consistent bedtime routine which includes activities that help the child calm down. This may include application of lotion, reading stories, and singing songs (my children are younger, so your mileage may vary). After an active day (as Walter suggests), a calming bedtime routine provides an excellent contrast that can help the child sleep. Perhaps the consistency of the routine itself may help her overcome her fears about sleep.

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The other question to consider is did this start after truly having trouble falling asleep, and if so why did that happen to begin with. Worry about not being able to fall asleep came from somewhere.
What works for my kids is letting them read in bed. They each have a light next to their bed that they can turn of themselves. Obviously, if they do not go to sleep after having this quiet time and continue reading I do have to go tell them it is time, but after having that relaxing time with no worries it seems to help.

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I agree with all the previous posters. Periodically, my 4-year-old will say, "But what if I can't sleep?". I don't know where this comes from, but he usually does it on nights when he's not exceptionally tired at bed time. Then he might pop out of bed a few times and we just put him right back in bed.

I think the situation is probably a little different in your daughter because she's older and you say you've never had this kind of problem with her. I think morah is spot on when she says that you need to investigate what brought this on. Did she see a scary movie by accident? Hear a scary story from one of her classmates at school (that was always a big one with me)? The imagination of a 7-year-old can be phenomenal and can cause no shortage of imaginary terrors. I remember hearing the entire plotlines of movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th at school from classmates who had been allowed to see the movies (at, like, age 7/8!) and it seriously kept me up at night for weeks--and to this day I haven't seen those movies.

Whenever my son starts the "What if I can't sleep?" game, I remind him that he can take a deep breath, and snuggle down with his blanket and pillow and Tigger, and turn over, and close his eyes, and go to sleep. I also remind him that if he needs us, we're right down the hall. The key is to keep it relaxed and calm.

If she's not able to get to sleep because she's scared, then some reassuring is in serious order and this might take a long time. If I watch horror films (especially ones involving ghosts), I won't be able to sleep well for weeks even though I'm over 30 and I know none of it's real, but my imagination can get the best of me sometimes (ask me about the movie Thirteen Ghosts. That movie still freaks me out). You might have to reassure her every night for a few weeks that you won't let anything hurt her until the memory kind of fades. If this is the problem, though, please address it now. My parents never really did with me, assuming, I guess, that I would just grow out of it, but I was well into my teens before I could even sleep in my own room in the dark (yeah, I'm a wimp about the dark).

Putting her to bed super-tired is also a great idea because she's going to be too tired to worry about not being able to sleep.

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