Surviving tween sleep struggles

If anyone knows the realities of tween-age sleep issues, it’s Kelly Burstow. The mum-of-four and creator of popular blog ‘Be a Fun Mum’ shares her tweens’ experiences with insomnia, anxiety and all of those other things that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep.

I’ve had three children go through the tween years, and two of them had significant sleep issues. My eldest child – who is now seventeen – has experienced the most insomnia over the years out of all of my children.

Most of the time the sleep issues in our house are anxiety driven – nightmares or difficultly sleeping caused by bombarding thoughts (more on that later) – but my eldest had difficulty sleeping in general, for no particular reason. There have been times over the years when we have put a mattress on the floor of my bedroom because of the extent of her anxiety. Eventually I wanted her to be able to sleep on her own, but it was useful to have that comfort option which, in my experience, would last about a week and then continue on and off over 6 months or so.

It’s a tricky thing – you don’t want to enable anxiety to persist, but you do need to offer comfort. It’s about finding the balance between the two, while also figuring out what is feeding the issue: whether that be considering the content they are watching or reading, issues at school or general anxieties (about death, for example). Kids experience significant growth between the ages of 8-12, and it’s not just physical – their ability to understand abstract concepts increases at this age, and there are a number of things they need to make sense of. But at the same time, they have limited life experience to help them work through these abstract concepts. This can create a disconnect which, in turn, can cause anxiety and insomnia. This is made extra tricky by the fact that kids of this age really need to sleep, because their body is growing so rapidly.

It takes time to work through these issues, and they rarely just disappear. It’s worthwhile looking in to sleep hygiene strategies and implementing those and even visiting your doctor to discuss other solutions if necessary. What has really helped my kids – particularly my eldest – is establishing good sleep hygiene habits: she gets up at the same time in the morning and exercises regularly, and she also reads each night before bed.

Some rules that we’ve established in our house really encourage a good night’s sleep. No screens in bedrooms when it’s time to go to sleep, and a bedtime routine that includes reading before lights out are a few examples. We also try to make sure that the kids are eating well, and we minimise scary content in movies and games.

Anyone will agree that it’s hard to function at your best when you’re tired, and this is particularly true for tweens. I’ve noticed that even the littlest things have really affected tweens when they are tired, and they’re generally more irritable. As a parent, it’s important to approach these issues with compassion rather than annoyance – even though it can get very frustrating sometimes! If you frame issues with compassion, it helps you to navigate them while still keeping the relationship positive. Maintaining a good relationship is fundamental.

I remember one time replying to my tween when they were snippy with something like, “Hey, that’s not like you to speak disrespectfully. Are you feeling okay at the moment?” I found that this approach opened up our communication and we were really able to troubleshoot what was bothering them.

The other thing that has been important for our family (especially as the kids get older) is giving each other space to be cranky. It’s okay not to be okay sometimes! I try to exemplify this in my own life – if I’m tired, I might say to the kids, “Sorry I’ve been so cranky today. I’m really tired today and I need a little space.” What I have noticed is that the kids now do the same, and just ask for a little leeway when they need it – we all need it every once in a while.

But most importantly, keep communication lines open with your tween and walk with them through their sleep struggles – and tween-age years in general – knowing that you are skilling them up for life. Now that my daughter is approaching adulthood, she has a better understanding of herself and has the ability to utilise certain strategies to assist her. These very strategies are ones she grappled with and developed during her tween years.

Visit www.beafunmum.com to keep up with Kelly and her family!