Sleep problems aren’t uncommon in children, but they’re even more prevalent amongst older adopted children who’ve been through trauma. Your child may need some special considerations based on their history and background. But, the groundwork always starts with healthy sleep hygiene. From there, you can work with your child’s specific challenges to reduce anxiety and help develop a regular sleep schedule.
Magnified Sleep Challenges
Adopted children have often been exposed to trauma that consciously or subconsciously can affect their sleep behavior. A few of the more common sleep-related challenges for adopted children include:
• Control: Traumatic experiences usually feature a loss of control. Your child’s life before entering your home may have been full of chaos. Control may have been taken in any way possible. He may be in a safe environment in your home, but he may still try to exert control by refusing to sleep.
• Fear: Nighttime can be full of unusual sounds and shadows, which can be frightening in the best of times. For some adopted children, nighttime may have been truly terrifying night after night. Fear of the dark, being alone, noises, and abandonment may be at work.
• High Alert: Trauma can lead to anxiety that causes the body to be at high alert all the times. With stress hormones flowing through the body, it can hard for anyone to sleep.
Your child may also struggle with attachment issues as well as mental or physical disabilities that further complicate sleep.
However, there are ways to help. Adopted children may need more time to adapt and respond to sleep help, but with consistent effort, over time, your child (and you) can get better (and more) sleep.
Start with Basic Sleep Hygiene
The best place to start is with healthy sleep hygiene. These are the habits and behaviors that build a good sleep foundation.
• Comfortable, distraction-free bedroom: Comfort matters to kids. A tag, sticker, or seam is enough to keep them awake. Then, of course, there’s the temptation of toys. Try to make the room as comfortable and distraction-free as possible. Remove electronic devices, put toys away, remove stuffed animals and extra blankets (unless they are comfort items) from the bedroom. A comfortable mattress in a cool, quiet room sets the stage for better sleep.
• Consistent bedtime: Children thrive off of routine and so does the human body. It learns to recognize patterns and time biological cycles, like the sleep cycle, to follow those patterns. A consistent bedtime also creates predictability and boundaries that can reduce anxiety before bed.
• Bedtime routine: Bedtime routines act as a transition time. Each activity should move your child closer to a calm, relaxed state. You’ve got traditional favorites like a warm bath, reading a book, or listening or singing quiet music. However, as we’ll expand in the next section, your child might need more intervention during his bedtime routine.
Face Your Child’s Unique Challenges
Adopted children may need more than the consistency of a bedtime. It may take months of effort to work through their sleep challenges. Their brains have learned to react in ways that work against the body’s natural methods of falling asleep. To get them back on track, consider:
• Quiet routine: We already mentioned a bedtime routine, but it’s so important we’re going to mention it again. This routine can be tailored to your child. Children who have abandonment issues may need you to stay in the bedroom with them longer than normal. Try rubbing their backs or holding their hand until they fall asleep. Once they’ve adapted, try sitting in the doorway reading a book. Eventually, they won’t need you to be physically present to fall asleep, but in the meantime, work with what’s comfortable for them.
• Light, healthy snack: Some adopted children have issues with food due to the manipulative nature of food restriction. If your child needs a snack before bed, keep it healthy and sugar-free.
• Rhythmic movement: We really mean rocking. Rhythmic movement soothes the mind while the body keeps moving. Even older children respond well to rhythmic movement.
• Manage light and sound: While the body needs complete darkness to sleep, it might be frightening for your child so give a night light a try. Keep your home quiet after your child has gone to bed. If he can hear you watching television or laughing, his brain might have a hard time shutting down.
Bringing a child into your home is life changing for everyone. You all need sleep to get through the resulting adjustments and challenges. Adopted children typically take longer to develop a regular sleep pattern, but with consistency, everyone can get the sleep they need.
Article courtesy of The Sleep Help Institute