4 Reasons Why Your Child May Be Afraid to Sleep

Cute toddler sleeping on moms lap blog title image

A good night’s sleep can make all the difference to your child, but many parents find bedtime a struggle. Sleep anxiety is common among young children, and bedtimes can often turn into a battle when they just won’t settle, leading to sleep deprived parents and kids. If your child has sleep anxiety, it’s important to find out why your child is afraid to sleep and to create strategies to make settling down easier. Here are some of the main reasons why kids get anxious at bedtime.

  1. Fear of the dark and what’s lurking

Everyone remembers being a kid and the sort of things you fear lurking in the dark. Natasha Daniels, a child therapist and founder of anxioustoddlers.com has created a video with the top five reasons for sleep anxiety, and at number one is a fear of the dark and the assorted monsters, aliens and bad people that could be hiding.

Being afraid of the dark is pretty common, and simply installing a night light can be an easy way to reassure children. A calming bedtime routine can help reassure children, and you could check under the bed and in cupboards to show there’s nothing lurking. Simply telling them that monsters or aliens don’t exist is rarely helpful; it’s better to let them express their fears and then find ways to overcome them. For example, you could give them a spray bottle of ‘anti-monster spray’ to help them feel protected at bedtime.

Fears of monsters and bad people such as burglars can be triggered by kids viewing inappropriate media, so make sure you’ve checked movies before you let them view. If your child attends child care in Perth or locally, then it’s worth speaking to the people taking care of your child to come up with strategies to reassure them.

little girl sitting at the end of her bed nervous to go to sleep


  1. Over-thinking at night

Life can be stressful, even for the youngest kids, and it’s not uncommon for them to be thinking over their day as they drift off to sleep. Everyone does this on occasion, but if it’s happening night after night, then it could be a sign of anxiety in your child.

Kids will often replay their day as they go to sleep, both the good and bad parts, and they may also be thinking about the next day ahead. If they have exams or big events coming up, then the anxiety can be worse. Some of the strategies you could try to reduce anxiety include:

  • Removing distractions from the room
  • Lie next to them and talk about their day before they settle down – give them a chance to discuss anything that’s bothering them
  • Have a bedtime story to put them in the right frame of mind
  • Make a relaxing bath part of their bedtime routine


  1. Sleep phobias

Drifting off to sleep can sometimes be a scary prospect, and some children worry that they may not wake up. This can cause a fear of sleep, with even the most tired of children battling to stay awake. This isn’t just something that happens at night, kids who attend day care centres in Perth and who have afternoon naps may ‘force’ themselves to stay awake, leading to cranky and irritable children.

It can be hard to tell if a child has a fear of sleep, as they will often express it by avoiding bedtime. They may refuse to carry out their routine, or once they’re in bed they’ll get up countless times, asking for glasses of water or toilet trips to delay the inevitable.

Sometimes, sleep anxiety can simply be a phase for children that they grow out of, but you may also need to intervene. Try to get them as calm as possible before bedtime, avoiding physical activities in those last couple of hours, and establish a good routine. Some parents will remove nap time, thinking it’ll help them sleep later on, but not having a nap can leave young children feeling overtired and more anxious. It’s about finding the right strategies to suit each kid.

Little girl sleeping in her bright pink cartoon room and wearing bunny ears


  1. Nightmares or night terrors

Children have very active imaginations, and unfortunately, this doesn’t switch off at night. Around half of the children aged 3 – 6 suffer from nightmares, and they can be made worse by changes to the child’s routine, such as a new school or changes in the family. Children who have nightmares are therefore more difficult to settle, so it’s important to find out what is causing the underlying anxiety.

Some of the ways you can help your child deal with nightmares include:

  • Avoiding scary movies or books – things that adults see as comical can disturb children
  • Being calm and understanding when they have a nightmare
  • Talk through their anxieties – many things that kids worry about are actually harmless, so spend time talking it through
  • See a specialist – if your child has recurring nightmares on the same subject, then it may be worth seeing a therapist to find out why they are so anxious

It’s also worth speaking to other adults in your child’s life to see if anything is upsetting them. This could be a teacher, or if they attend child care centres in Perth, then one of the staff who care for them. Children will sometimes remember their nightmares and discuss them during the day, so try to find out the source and you can begin the process of reassuring them.

Good sleep patterns are vital for a child’s development and health, but unfortunately, there are lots of reasons why a child may be sleeping poorly. Whether it’s because of general anxiety or something specific bothering them, there are lots of strategies you can use to make bedtimes more pleasant. It’s often a case of listening carefully to your child and why they’re upset, then putting coping strategies in place. Many kids suffer from sleep anxieties, and most of them will grow out of it as they get older, but in the meantime, some reassurance and talking things through will go a long way.