Is your child fussy, emotional, grumpy, and throws tantrums out of nowhere? If so, they may not be getting enough sleep.
Everyone needs sleep, but good sleep isn’t just about the quantity. It’s about appropriate timing, quality sleep, regularity, and absence of disturbances. Lost sleep can do more than just leave your kids grumpy. It can affect school performance, weaken the immune system, and increase their risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, accidents, injuries, and depression.
Know how much sleep your child needs
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has come up with age-based recommendations for sleep:
|4 to 12 months||12 to 16 hours|
|1 to 2 years||11 to 14 hours|
|3 to 5 years||10 to 13 hours|
|6 to 12 years||9 to 12 hours|
|13 to 18 years||8 to 10 hours|
Tips and natural ways to improve sleep in children
- Children thrive on routine: Routine is so important for kids. Coming up with a nighttime routine makes it easier for your child to relax, understand that it is time to sleep. Sometimes a slight change in daytime and nighttime routine can drastically affect your child’s sleep, so sticking to a regular bedtime routine can really help. Bedtime stories, castor oil belly rubs, play soft music are all great additions to a night’s routine.
- Offer them some calming herbs: Lavender, skullcap, chamomile, passionflower are all soothing and relaxing. Offering them a cup of tea an hour before going to bed can help them relax, become part of bedtime rituals. Try rotating the herbs, or using a combination herbal tea. If they don’t like the taste of herbal teas, turning it into popsicles can be another great way to get them to take herbs.
- Melatonin: This is especially helpful for sleep-onset delays when taken 30minutes before the desired bedtime. A randomized controlled trial carried out on 72 children with chronic insomnia did find it significantly effective at improving sleep and shortening sleep latency. There is also strong evidence that melatonin is well tolerated and can help sleep problems, behavior, and mood associated with autism spectrum disorders and ADHD.
- L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid that comes from green tea and promotes alpha-waves in the brain, predominantly associated with relaxation. Research has demonstrated that it can be beneficial for improving sleep in those with ADHD. What’s great about this is that it comes as a tasty chewable, appropriate for kids to take and it is quick acting.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body, so it is no wonder it can help for sleep. At this time, there doesn’t appear to be any studies looking at magnesium supplementation for kids who struggle with sleep disturbances. However, there is lots of evidence that it does work in adults, and we know that it is safe for kids to take. Magnesium works on the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to calming effects and restful sleep. It can be taken as a supplement, as a fizzy drink, absorbed through the skin during a bath or with application of magnesium oil. Lots of options here, which makes it, a kid-friendly option, especially for those who struggle with anxiety and hyperactivity.
- Cut down on screen time: Consider cutting out television and all screens at least 1 hour before bed. Today, kids are surrounded by screens and technology, which emit blue lights that impact our circadian rhythms and natural production of melatonin. In addition, sleeping near screens or with a TV in the room has been shown to be associated with shorter sleep durations. In teenagers, exposure to screens suppressed melatonin by up to 38%!
Sleep problems/disturbances to watch for in your child
Talk to your child’s healthcare practitioner if any of the following come up for your child:
- Nightmares can be normal once in a while, but if they start getting more frequent and upsetting, you might want to explore them a little more.
- Restless legs syndrome is a movement disorder that involves a crawly/tingly feeling in the legs causing the urge to move.
- Sleepwalking is more common than most think. It usually happens during the first few hours of falling asleep.
- Sleep terrors are different from frightening nightmares. A child will appear distressed and may scream out, but they are usually not awake or aware during the event.
- Snoring may seem harmless, but it can be a sign of congestion, enlarged tonsils or adenoids and can lead to poor sleep quality.
Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for both kids and parents. But today, falling asleep and staying asleep can be challenging. Instead of feeling frustrated and feeling like you are out of options, talk to a naturopathic doctor to discuss natural remedies and simple routine changes to set the stage for good sleep.
Falbe J. et al. “Sleep duration, restfulness, and screens in the sleep environment”. Pediatrics. 2015; 135(2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25560435
Figueiro M., Overington D. “Self-luminous devices and melatonin suppression in adolescents”. Lighting Research & Technology. 2016; 48(8). http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1477153515584979
Lyon M., Kapoor M., Juneja L. “The effects of L-theanine on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial”. Altern Med Rev. 2011; 16(4): 348-354. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22214254
Paruthi S. et al. “recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2016; 12(6):785-786. http://www.aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30652
Sanchez-Barcelo E., Mediavilla M., Reiter R. “Clinical uses of melatonin in pediatrics”. Int J Pediatr. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133850/