Q: Any recommendations for getting a nervous 8-year-old boy to sleep through the night? He wakes up at least once a night. He thinks our house is haunted (hears house-settling noises at night, “footsteps” in his room, etc.). Kids at school last year also told him that the school was haunted, so that probably started it. We are now on month six of no sleep, and he has only slept through the night a handful of times.
A: Thank you for writing in. Six months is a long time to have interrupted sleep. I feel for your whole family.
You describe your son as a “nervous 8-year-old boy,” which leads me to believe that he was probably born with a sensitive soul. Some of us, because of genetics and environment, take in more sensory information, and it leaves our nervous systems exhausted from being on heightened alert. Being a sensitive person isn’t a disorder; it’s a personality trait. Researchers say that this accounts for roughly 20 percent of the population, and many parents can tell you that they knew their babies were sensitive from the start. It can be hard for a sensitive person to come to rest, but it is never just a choice. A sensitive person would love to feel settled; it takes a little more work and self-knowledge.
One thing to be aware of, though, is that it is easy for a sensitive child to turn into an anxious child. The pervasive feeling of unease can begin to feel unmanageable, and the nervous system will do whatever it needs to do to calm itself down. For instance, when your son awakens at night, his brain will fight to stay awake to stay alert and ready. It sounds as if you have an anxious child on your hands right now.
Luckily, there are many resources to help guide you. My favorite book about parenting an anxious child is Eli R. Lebowitz’s “Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD.” Lebowitz lays out an easy and clear plan that can help you work with your son regarding sleeping and ghosts, rather than swinging from one extreme to the other […]