Sleep and Separation Anxiety/Fighting Sleep

Updated on August 26, 2009
E.G. asks from Santa Monica, CA
9 answers

My 3-year old daughter transitioned to her bed three months ago and was doing very well. Slowly, she started waking at night and wandering into our room...first a little, then more and more. For the last month and a half, we go through the bedtime routine smoothly, then something like CHAOS breaks loose. As soon as I go to leave the room, the quickly hops out of bed to preempt me and clings to me for her life. My husband can tuck her in and she won't scream or chase him, but often her claims of "i'm not tired" end up with her sleeping in her chair after falling asleep reading a book. If I put her to bed, when I leave the room, she often falls asleep on the floor in front of her door, with her face looking out of the crack of the door. Then two hours later she wakes up screaming. We've tried responses of running to her and tucking her back in, we've tried letting her work it out on her own, but nothing seems to work. If we go in there in the middle of the night, she says "i'm not tired!" I'd be happy to sit with her until she falls asleep but she fights it because she's glancing over to check if I am there. And if I do leave and she wakes up, the screaming starts again.

I feel like we need to "reset" our sleeping situation somehow. Any advice? We're all very tired. I know she's not getting the rest she needs because she's up so much at night. At least, neither her father or I are getting the rest WE need. She goes to bed at 8 and wakes up around 6.30 or 7, if we get her to sleep through the night. During the day, she is at preschool all day and has a lot of physical activity. We spend a few hours quality time between school and bed, so I think she's getting enough interaction with us as well.

Please share your thoughts or experiences. Desperate for some advice.

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So What Happened?

update on 8/26
I am really liking this community! It sounds like many of us are in similar situations. I, too, remember being legitimately scared as a child in the night and my parents let me sleep on the floor in thier room. It did make me feel safer. We might consider this option down the line if there are more problems. Right now, though, she is very happy with our dog astro sleeping in her room and "protecting" her. She slept through the night last night. I think that everyone is right that talking through the issues with your child to support them and let them feel part of the solution is key. I also want her to know I am there for her, but sleeping in my bed is not an option. (we cuddle a ton after school and in the morning!) good luck to everyone!

update on 8/25
Thank you so much for your comments and insight. These are all tremendous ideas and I just appreciate you taking the time to respond with your experiences. After school today I sat down and listened to her talk about what was bothering her at night. I do think there is some fear there (she mentioned "bears" and "stomping") but in the end, she said it was being alone in her room at night that scared her. So, for now, we told her that one of our dogs (who sleeps in a crate) could sleep with her in the room and she was ELATED! Bedtime tonite was peaceful and quiet. I hope this goes OK for her and for our dog. :) It is a good solution for tonite at least and we'll have to see how it goes!

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answers from Honolulu on

So nice to hear that that solution has worked for her!

Just bear in mind, that night-time "fears" do continue at older ages... my daughter (and her friends) are now 6 years old, and my girl still gets scared at night... their imaginations are robust, and it is also developmental based.
They cannot just "stop" their imaginations or fears... but its so great you talked with her about it and let her tell you what she is feeling and thinking. Just knowing that a Parent is supporting them and "believing" them, is comfort for them. Instead of getting scolded for it or punished... because they cannot control their imaginations, at will. Neither can adults many times. LOL

My daughter gets scared on windy nights, or rainy nights, or just any ol' noise at night. But its okay.
I remember as a child feeling the same way... and being legitimately "scared" at night. I would crawl into bed with my parents. They let me. And I grew out of it... no biggie.

All the best,

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answers from Los Angeles on


My son has gone through variations of this since he was around 2 years old. First, it was night terrors and then as he got older a fear of the dark, and most recenlty being afraid that a 'spooky' is under his chair in his room.

I've read tons of stuff on sleep patterns and anxiety and it's overwhelming and daunting to try to figure HOW to help them get comfortable. So, I've adopted a few attitude changes...wherever my son falls asleep is no big deal (which it sounds like you've already got down) and there is always a creative solution to be found with lots of talking and team work.

When my son became afraid of the dark it was very much like your little girl, he'd either fight going to bed or he'd wake terrified and would force himself to stay up. Taking cues from our kids is so important, but sometimes tough while they are still developing the ability to explain things on their terms. After talking to my son for about a week, I figured out that he wanted me close because the shadows in his room, and MY room too, were spooky. So, I followed my Mom's route she took with my little sister when we were kids. WE as team went to the store, and I explained that we would get nightlights and flashlights to keep the shadows away. We had a party that night with Grandma and Grandpa, and he showed us how/where to put the nightlights and chose the best places for the little flashlights. And, because its fun we can up with a dance and song to keep the spookies away.

This was a nightly thing few a couple weeks before he would go to bed without total hesitation. But, now its one of those things we pull out on nights he's spooked or after he's seen something that has spooked him.

My advice to you is to sit down and talk with your little girl, and ask her why she's afraid for Mommy to leave. Remember seperation anxiety can rear it's head at any age/stage too, so this could be a symptom of just wanting some more Mommy time. It's tough but even when we think we spend tons of time with our kiddos they really can just start to crave one-on-one time with Mommy or Daddy. I see it with my son when he starts to miss me or his Dad, and I do my best to address it and help him work through it.

Once you know what is really bugging her, ask her to help you come up with a plan to help her sleep better at night. Make you little one a part of the solution and give her power over the issue at hand. I use the terms, teamwork and Big Boy(or Girl for your situation) a lot when we hit an obstacle. This makes my son feel like he is doing something on his own and kids this age love ownership of things that make them feel strong and in control.

I hope this helps...really it will get better. Just be creative and be positive, don't let her see you sweat over this. Kids at any age can read our emotions and then mimic them in their own ways.

Good Luck!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter started doing the same, she's being sleeping in her room since she was 5 months old, but she started going to our room, at first we thought it was cute, but as she did it more and more, I began questioning if there was something wrong. She's 4 now, so it wasn't too difficult to get from her what the deal was. She was scared. Looks to me that could be the problem with your baby. She's scared to death. For them, monsters under the bed are a very REAL thing. In our case, it was relatively easy to talk to her, assuring her she's safe in her room, surrounded by the things us and friends and family had given her with love, and we're just in the next door room, very literally sleeping with one eye open, in case she needs us. I didn't tell her monsters don't exist, it's hard when we're also encouraging her to use her imagination in other ways. Every now and then she still wakes up in our bed, but I think she's not scare to be alone in her room anymore. Try to figure out what scared your baby, it could have being a movie she saw, or a TV show, or even something she heard, so you can keep her away from that, but mainly, assure her in every way you can, that she has nothing to be afraid at night, when the lights are out, because you are with her no matter if few steps away, or angels, or fairies, or, as we did in our case, love never leaves her. Good luck to you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi E.,
Sounds like a frustrating situation to be in.
My daughter has only been sleeping throught the night for a few weeks now. She is 28 months old and would wake up in t5
he middle of the night to come into our bed. I could never get her back to sleep in her own bed. She would scream and cry until I took her out. Needless to say, I just didn't want to deal with it. (yes I know, I created this habit) It was easier to bring her to bed and get that sleep (oh, she would also sleep longer in my bed) One day she just slept until 6:00 am in her own bed. And then again the very next morning. This went on for a few weeks, and then she started waking up again around 3:00am-5:00am. Last night she woke up at 1:45am. I said "this is too early, no way I am bringing her into bed now." Now, saying that, I knew that I had a fight on my hands.(my poor husband has to wake up at 4:30am, obviously he didn't get much sleep) BUT, I stuck to my guns and got her back to sleep. It took about an hour to do so. She SCREAMED for about 25 minutes straight with me going in there a few times for a few minutes. I reminded her that it was not morning and to lay down. She has a Glow Worm, so I told her to listen to the music and go back to sleep. Each time I went in there, she cried when I left. Before she goes to sleep at night we have a ritual of saying "Sweetdreams, see you in the morning, I love you" I always "make" her say it to me, so that it is closure for the night. I thought of it at 2:45am and she finally stopped crying and said it to me. She finally fell asleep at that time. AHHHH so frustrating. I'm going to have to do the same thing until her body sleeps through the night. (AGAIN) We also have a very strict bedtime schedule. 3 books only, and I always end with the same last book, that way she knows what to expect.
Stick to the same schedule and stay consistant. It's ok that she falls asleep on the floor, as long as she stays in her bedroom.
I don't have to much advise, I just wanted to vent about my night last night! LOL I hope you get great advise, and I will be reading them along with you!
Take care!



answers from Las Vegas on

My son tried to do the same thing that your daughter is doing. So what I did was I took him to the store one day and I told him to pick out his nightlight. That was the biggest thing for him to do because he felt like a big boy. I even have the radio on at night so that way he knows he is ok. Every now and then he says there are monsters in his closet so we look in there and "tell them" to go away and then he's fine. So just talk to her and tell her she is a big girl. You could even try giving her a sticker for each night she stays in her room and sleeps. After so many stickers she can get a little treat of whatever you choose. Hopefully it works out for you.



answers from Los Angeles on

I am going through the same thing. My daughter is 3 1/2 and my son is 4 months old. Between the two of them my husband and I are not sleeping it is affecting our work and our entire lives as a whole. I would love to hear any help that the other moms can offer. We are desperate. She already has a night light. We have looked under the bed with a flashlight. We have looked in her closet. I asked her if anything is scary to her and she says no. I sit with her until she falls asleep, but she wakes up screaming. We have a queen sized bed and don't have room with her to sleep with me. My son is in his crib in his room. I do validate her fears, but now that she says she is not scared, I'm not sure what to do. I've spoken with her about her feelings, but she says that there is no reason. When she goes to sleep later she does sleep through, but she is phasing out the nap and needs to sleep earlier. Any help would be appreciated.



answers from San Diego on

I think this sounds pretty normal for her age. My daughter went through a "scarey" phase at about 3 and 1/2 where she didn't want to stay in her own bed and used all sorts of reasons why she couldn't (including monsters).

I don't think that she was as extreme as your situatioin sounds, but what has worked ok for us (and we still do) is to tuck her into her own bed and leave the light on. I have a very dim kids light from IKEA that hangs on her wall, so it's still reasonably darkish in her room. She understands that she needs to stay in her own bed until my bedroom light is out, and then she is welcome to come over to my bed. I just need that hour or so after the kids are in bed to have my room to myself to finish things up for the evening without having to work around a little one trying to go to sleep in my room.

This seems to give her the comfort that she can come over later so she goes to sleep ok in her own bed (though sometimes she does read for awhile). And, she sometimes does show up in my bed between 2 and 4am. I don't mind, since I have a king bed and it hardly disturbs my sleep. The other suggestion that you got about having a mattress on your floor might be good too.

Good luck. You'll figure out a solution that works for all of your sleep benefit!



answers from Los Angeles on

maybe take her out of preschool? since you're home anyway. maybe shell feel less anxiety about going to bed at night if she gets to be with you during the day. also, my daughter screamed at bed time like that too. all we had to do was let her really scream it out one time without going into her. the very next night, the screaming stopped and she slept through the night.



answers from Los Angeles on

We went through the exact same thing when my daughter was that age. so we set up a little "bed" on the floor in front of our bed. we told our daughter that she was not allowed to wake us up crying or whining, but that if she woke up in the middle of the night that she could could quietly come into our room and sleep in her "little bed" on the floor. We continued with this program until she finally grew out of it at age 6 1/2, but it saved us from battles and tears. and she has now slept in her bed without a hitch for the past year.

Kids have fears at night, that's the bottom line, they just want to be close to their parents and know they are safe.

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