Kids with bedtime anxiety are super common, according to a recent survey

Daughter kissing mom before bed

Most parents of young children have experienced the daily struggles of trying to get their kids to finally go to bed. The bargaining, the sudden burst of energy, the arguing to get them in the bath. But how do you know when it’s normal kid behavior versus something more?

According to a new  C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, based on a national sample of 781 parents with kids ages 1-year-old to 6 years old, one in four parents said their child has trouble going to bed because they’re anxious or worried—so not just trying to delay the inevitable because they’re having too much fun and have a case of FOMO. More than one-third of the parents in this poll reported their children also didn’t stay asleep throughout the night and typically woke up upset or crying.

Almost half of the parents also reported their child would leave their beds and get into bed with their parents most nights, and one in three parents said their child “often or occasionally” insisted their parent stays in the room with them until they fall asleep.

In an interview with CNN, Sarah Clark, Mott poll co-director and a research scientist in pediatrics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said “From 1 year of age to 6 years of age, kids change a lot. The different phases they go to are often pretty predictable: They’re scared of the dark, or as kids develop and their imagination develops … now they’re scared of monsters.”

Clark added that while it can be all sorts of things contributing to this anxiety, these anxieties often manifest or are because of nighttime—and that goes for adults, too.

So if you are experiencing bedtime anxiety with your kids, what can you do? For starters, a consistent bedtime routine can help. According to the Sleep Foundation, a bedtime routine, i.e., a “consistent and repetitive set of activities that are carried out every night,” helps your child’s body prepare for sleep. The predictable routine helps their body relax, gives them a sense of security, and teaches them how to fall asleep on their own.

“Research shows that children who follow bedtime routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. These benefits to sleep quality are still seen  years later, in children who followed bedtime routines when they were younger,” according to the foundation’s website.

The foundation provided examples of a good bedtime routine for kids, including:

  • Offering a nutritious snack (or bottle/breastfeeding, depending on the age)

  • Giving a bath or shower (or a diaper change)

  • Going to the bathroom

  • Brushing teeth

  • Reading a book

  • Singing a lullaby

  • Cuddling, massaging, or rocking

  • Talking about their day

They also recommended leaving the room when the child is sleepy, but not asleep yet. Additionally, the foundation recommends ceasing all screen time at least an hour before bedtime to reduce exposure to blue light, which affects sleep and the body’s ability to produce melatonin naturally.

“It might help to plan other calming activities before bed, such as reading, coloring, painting, or stretching,” the foundation noted.

Dr. Lauren Hartstein, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona who also led a study titled, “High sensitivity of melatonin suppression response to evening light in preschool-aged children,” also noted in an interview with CNN, “We know that young children really resonate with consistency and routine, and getting ready for bed helps their body and their brain know that this is the time to start winding down.”