Make bedtime better so you and your kids get some sleep


INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — A long day, would often turn into a long night for the Karrs.

Lucas and Laurren would put their daughter Charrlotte to bed only to have her boomerang back to the family room time and time again.

At 8 years old, Charrlotte was so anxious about sleep, her fears disrupted the evening routine for her entire family.

“We waited way too long, if your child has a sleeping issue it's ok to just get it addressed.”

Charrlotte knew what her parents wanted, but she couldn't control her panicky feelings.

"All of a sudden my body would start shaking. My hands would start shaking. I was just feeling so afraid" Charrlotte said. "I would start huffing and puffing. I would be very scared and worried."

The physical and emotional reaction worried her parents.

"Charrlotte would come out constantly every five or 10 minutes. I would usually get up with her, put her back to bed, go back to bed try to fall asleep. It was really hard for us always feeling tired and trying not to take out the frustrations on her because she would be doing her best, she just couldn't fall asleep," said Charrlotte's father Lucas Karr.

Her mother tried weighted blankets, herbal teas, essentials oils and a strict bedtime schedule but nothing worked.

"It was hard to see her feel so defeated about the fact that bedtime was coming," said Laurren Karr.

Sleep issues are common for children

Pediatric sleep experts at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children estimate nearly half of all children have issues failing or staying asleep sometime during their childhood. Dr Sarah Honaker PhD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist, says if the disruptive night time schedule persists for three months; if it routinely takes a child 45 minutes or more to fall asleep, and if there is a lot of negative energy at bedtime it's time to seek help.

Honaker says often when the root of the fear is addressed, the fix can be very simple.

"Bed is no longer a place of rest for them. It can also almost become a trigger for stress and negative emotions and dread" Honaker said.

After a few appointments, Dr. Honaker asked Charrlotte what was driving her insomnia.

Charrlotte told the therapist she didn't like the dark or being separated from her parents. Charrlotte also didn't believe she could sleep.

"As soon as the lights were turned off and my dad left, I would just be like ok, ok, ok, and I just tried to fall asleep, but I just couldn't," Charrlotte said.

A possible solution

Dr. Honaker encouraged the Karr's to modify their nightly routine and also try sleeping passes. She gave Charrlotte five laminated cards. Each card represented an allowed exit from bed. In the morning, Charrlotte got a jelly bean for each pass she didn't use.

The strategy was to have Charrlotte focus on the cards and away from her fears.

When Charrlotte was tempted to get up, she would debate the consequence of doing so.

"Do I need a pass or do I not? Do I have to go to the bathroom? No? If I don't have to go to the bathroom, I don't have a reason to get up," Charrlotte said.

Sleeping Passes

  • Child gets 3-5 laminated "passes"
  • Each card represents an allowed exit from bed
  • Reward child in the morning for each pass not used
  • Passes encourage child to think about why they want to get up

Every time Charrlotte didn't use a card her self-confidence grew.

"I think in my heart I really knew I was a good sleeper, but I need my whole body to believe it" Charrlotte said.

In addition to the cards, Dr Honaker suggested environment and routine bedtime changes. The family added a new light on the light stand and moved Charrlotte's reading time from her bed to the living room to reinforce the bed is for sleeping only. Honaker also recommended the family temporarily move the bedtime later, so Charrlotte would be more tired and have time to gain sleep confidence.

In a matter of days, Charrlotte routinely collected five jelly beans and eventually forgot about the cards altogether.

"It was actually pretty amazing because it was almost immediate. By the third night she was going to bed," Lucas Karr said.

Then in addition to the cards, Dr Honaker suggested environment and routine bedtime changes too. The family added a new light on the lightstand and moved Charrlotte's reading time from her bed to the living room to reinforce the bed is for sleeping only.

Signs of a sleep disorder

Honaker says you should check on your child while sleeping and be aware if they exhibit any of these sleep disorder symptoms:

  • Difficulty Breathing During Sleep
  • Recurrent Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Sleepwalking
  • Difficulty Falling and Staying Asleep
  • Excessive Sleepiness During the Day

Honaker says sometime, behavior therapy like creating cards will do the trick. Doctors rely on observations from parents, the child's self-reported concerns and results of a sleep study to make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.

The most common sleep diagnoses in children include Circadian Rhythm Disorders, Insomnia, Parasomnias, Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome.

Addressing Charrlotte's insomnia means bedtime is so peaceful now at the Karr's home in Stilesville, her parents only regret is that they didn't seek help sooner.

"We waited way too long, if your child has a sleeping issue it's ok to just get it addressed," said Lucas Karr.

Now, Charrlotte is sleeping longer at night and having better days too.

"I feel so good now," Charrlotte said.