Q. My 11-year-old son seems happy at his new weekly boarding school but has told me has trouble sleeping and is often wide awake at midnight. What to do? Susannah, Wiltshire
There is a good chance that the school has already noticed their little insomniac (his results or behaviour may be affected) but are allowing him to settle naturally. If they haven’t, you should be concerned and might question the quality of night-time supervision.
Either way, you could ask for an informal meeting, involving your child, to see how they feel he is fitting in, without focusing solely on bedtime. If all other aspects of school life seem happy, ask about the school’s night-time routine and make sure your weekend sleep routine matches it.
Sleep problems are not unusual, says children’s sleep specialist Andrea Grace.
‘For growing children, the world is a fascinating place. Your son is learning new skills daily and his sense of his own developing abilities is both wonderful and a bit unsettling. Add to this inevitable playground conflicts and possible worries about school work, and it is not surprising that many children find it difficult to sleep at night.’
She recommends you look at your son’s preparation for sleep and, crucially, ensure a screen shutdown at least half an hour before bed – no sneaky reading on a paperwhite Kindle after lights out.
Grace also suggests simple mental exercises to distract him from his fears and removing the focus away from trying to sleep by drawing up alphabetical mental lists of animals and countries, or encouraging him to think about a nice forthcoming event.
If nightmares are a problem, she advises using a repetitive mantra like ‘go away silly dream’, or turning monsters into green jelly.
But she reassures parents, ‘Your child having trouble sleeping at night is a sign that his imagination is developing well. It is a normal and transient stage in his growing up, and taking positive steps now to help him sleep well will equip him with a valuable life skill.’