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Sleep Disorders

9 Year Old Boy Afraid to Sleep in Own Bed

08/26/2009

Question:

Our youngest son has slept most of his life in our bed, 2 out of his 3 older siblings have moved out already. First we did not have enough room to create his own area, but when he was 4 he got his own room next door to our bedroom. Since my husband has been working the night shift there was always enough room for our youngest son in my bed but for the last few years I have been trying to encourage him to sleep on his room. Last night I even promissed him a reward. After he tried to stay in his bed for an hour or so he begged me to come to my bed. After he fell asleep I tried to carry him into his bed but he woke up and became very upset. Even when he notices that I am going to the bathroom he will wake up and follow me. During the day he seems fine but as soon as it gets dark and we are alone in the home he follows me around calling my name as soon as he doesn`t see me. We are already in counseling for his ADAD, but mentioned, but not really addressed this matter. Let me know what you think can be done to help this issue.

Answer:

This is most likely a sleep association disorder with the child requiring a parent in order to fall asleep (unable to self soothe). He's never learned to this because he has always co-slept with a parent. I would also explore if there are specific nighttime fears (other than being alone) associated with the child's desire to sleep with a parent. You indicate that your son does well during the day. However, I would make sure that he has no difficulty being alone in a room (bedroom, living room) during the day, which may indicate more generalized anxiety which may need to be further addressed by a mental health care specialist (perhaps by the individual already addressing his ADHD?).

Treatment consists of a "graduated extension" program (gradual removal of your son from your bedroom) with the goal of having your son sleeping in his own bedroom. Two options that are reasonable include having your son sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor next to your bed or having you start the night out sitting in a chair by his bed in his bedroom. In the first approach, the sleeping bag is gradually moved away from your bed and eventually into his bedroom. In the second approach, you move the chair closer to the door gradually over a few nights until you are able to move out the bedroom. A key to either approach is to break the physical touch by the parent that has become a habit helping the boy fall asleep. The parent should not engage in conversation, touching, etc. after lights out at bedtime.

I would discuss your problem further with son's pediatrician if the problem is not solved in 2 weeks time after trying the above methods.

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Response by:

Mark   Splaingard, MD Mark Splaingard, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University