Help! Daughter afraid to go to sleep

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-16-2003
Help! Daughter afraid to go to sleep
Mon, 06-16-2003 - 12:10pm
I need some advice on how to handle this - Our 13 yr old daughter has suddenly become worried about not being able to go to sleep at night and she has been up most of the last few nights crying and saying that she is scared and lonely. This is so out of character for her - she is a happy, well-adjusted kid. She hasn't really been able to explain to me what the problem is, only that she can't get to sleep and is really worried about it. She told me she dreads all day going to bed at night, and last night she was up crying saying she was scared and lonely and nothing helped. She has been asking to have friends spend the night and she told me that she asked that so she would have someone there to sleep with her.

I have suggested all the usual things - reading, going to the bathroom, etc. I even let her have the TV in her room (she left it on all night). She also left her door open, and I thought about letting her have our dog sleep with her, but I am running out of ideas. And mostly I am worried about what started all of this.

Does anyone have any experience with this - why would a kid suddenly feel like this? Any suggestions would be really appreciated!


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 06-16-2003 - 1:25pm
First off, if dd hasn't had a checkup with the family doctor in awhile, it might be a good idea to make one. It never hurts to make absolutely sure that there isn't something physical contributing to night awakening (nocturia, leg cramps, sleep apnea, etc. IF nothing else, the doctor can reassure you as to dd's good health. He/she may also be able to suggest whether dd's seeing a counselor is warranted (make sure she's not depressed and stuff which also can cause sleep problems.)

That said, it's REALLY common for teens to go through phases where they have difficulty sleeping. I dunno if it's hormonal or what, (my girls seemed to have more trouble with this than ds) but all three of my teens have experienced this at one time or another. It can get to be a pretty vicious cycle if you don't nip it in the bud: the kid worries about not going to sleep and being unable to do well in school or whatever the next day, and keeps checking the clock, the later it gets, the more worried and wide-awake the kid gets.

I found that feeding them foods rich in tryptophan before bedtime (chicken sandwiches, hot milk, etc) helped, also to make sure they limited their caffeine intake (oldest dd in particular liked chocolate, tea, and lattes, and tended to get kind of wired from these sometimes, especially if she'd been doing a lot of "cramming" for tests), had plenty of healthy exercise and fresh air (although not immediately before bedtime), a set relaxing routine before bed (quiet reading, quiet music, a little cuddling with Mom, etc). Once in a great while, if they were REALLY having problems getting to sleep, I would resort to herbal remedies (my favorites for dd were "sleepytime" herbal tea or "sleeptight" herbal capsules. No drugs, just herbs like chamomile and stuff that help the body relax.)

Hope this helped some, and that dd feels better soon. I'm sure some of the other ladies here will have even better suggestions for you too.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-02-2003
Mon, 06-16-2003 - 2:09pm
I essentially agree with dreimutter - but I would look into this further. my son is depressed and after years of sleeping like a log - he is waking up several times at night, and complaining about lack of sleep. *something* must be scaring her - whether it is real or in her mind, it appears to be bothering her.

has something happened in her life/family in the past year or so? is she going to be changing schools now? are you moving? don't forget that 13 YOs can look (and act) like 30 YOs one minute and 3 YOs the next.

Avatar for sabrtooth
iVillage Member
Registered: 12-03-1999
Mon, 06-16-2003 - 3:21pm
Drei gave you excellent advice. I also think a medical check-up is the first thing you should do. If that comes up normal, I would consider taking her to a counselor. This could be an Obsessive-Compulsive episode. OCD is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders, & also one of the most treatable ones. It is often episodic, can appear out of the blue, and is often not recognized for what it is. The emotional & hormonal uphevals of puberty are often triggers. Some compulsions are not as disabling as others, and adults often dismiss the symptoms as a "phase". My older dd has had OCD episodes, and some of her friends have, too. My dd had acne, was understandably concerned over her appearence & was spending a lot of time on her makeup. But it wasn't untill I realized she was wearing SO much, and getting to the point where she would walk out the door, turn around & RETURN to the house to reapply it, that I knew this was MORE than concern. We were seeing a counselor at that time for her ADD, & she helped us thru that one. Then in college, she began cutting her hair. It got to the point where we had to HIDE all the sissors in the house, and her hair was SO short she looked a red-headed Q-tip. She was also REFUSING to see the Pdoc as that time, so it took over a year for that one to stop. Her hair has grown back, & she's MUCH calmer, but she STILL has trouble allowing a hairdresser to cut her hair & will frequently come home from an (infrequent) visit & start "trimming".

Here's a good link, describing many symptoms via "real-life" stories.

Avatar for yuccabugg
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-17-2003 - 11:04pm
If it lasts for another week I'd look into counseling after seeing the doctor because she shouldn't have to suffer like that.
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-01-2003
Wed, 06-18-2003 - 12:13am
Hi there,

I'm not a parent :), but I wanted to respond when I read your message. I went through something similar around the 3rd grade. I know the age difference is big, but the situation was similar. I have been diagnosed with OCD (at age 16; I'm 19 now) and can see OCD patterns that occurred even when I was that young. The sleeping thing was one of them. All of a sudden, I got scared to go to sleep. I would think about lots of bad things that could happen at night (I could see a ghost, aliens might come, a bad guy might break in, I could get sick). But mostly I just felt alone and unsafe. I was (and still am, occasionally!) afraid of not being able to sleep. I had rituals around going to bed to "protect" me from all the bad things that could happen (things like brushing my teeth a certain way, turning the faucet on and off a certain number of times, flipping the light switch, not wearing certain colors, prayers I said a certain way). Does your daughter do any of that? Is there anything in particular she worries or obsesses about? Also, has she recently had a strep infection?

Maybe none of this fits for your daughter, but I thought I'd send you a note anyway. I hope you can figure it out. Definitely check with the doctor.

Best wishes,


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-16-2003
Thu, 06-19-2003 - 12:37pm
Fortunately, she does not have any of the symptoms you describe. My son had a similar situation also in 3rd grade, and he DID show some signs of OCD, and he DID have a strep infection, so I know what you are talking about. Luckily, he doesn't show any signs of OCD now as a 17 yr old.

I will keep your information in mind - it is very important and insightful on your part. Good luck to you and thanks!

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-02-2003
Wed, 06-25-2003 - 2:28pm
Just a thought.

Your post made me think of times when I was sick and I knew I had to sleep at night because everyone else did. I dreaded go to sleep then because I couldn't I just tossed and turned, I wanted to, but couldn't.

I think that fear might be part of it. I live in Utah about 20 miles from where Elizabeth Smart was taken. It has been a concern to my 14 yo dd so we have taken some precautions to make her feel safe. She also had a 14 yo boy at school threaten to come into her window and do things to her. She pressed charges and he was suspended.

I wish you the best and let us know what becomes of this.

Sincerely, Shelly

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-16-2003
Thu, 06-26-2003 - 4:09pm
Hi everyone - our daughter is doing somewhat better, and seems to have thought up a few things to help herself feel better at night. We have continued to let her have the tv because it seems to help so much, and she got a couple of good books she's been reading at night. She still wants me to linger in her room longer saying goodnight, but overall, she's doing better.

Thanks for your help!