Sleep is especially important for children: it is vital to the development of the brain, and sleep deprived children may get sick more often, or perform badly at school.
Studies have shown that sleep problems may even affect the physical growth of children.
Consequently, parents need to pay attention to their children’s sleeping habits, and take steps to avoid problems that could lead to later complications. That’s what this page is all about: sleep aids for kids.
Signs of Sleep Disorders
It can be difficult for parents to recognize a sleep disorder, especially in very young kids who have not yet developed regular sleeping habits. The amount of sleep required by each individual child can also vary – quite a lot, actually.
So, look at your kid, observe! If your child is happy and energetic throughout the day then it is likely they are getting the sleep they need. But if your child wakes up feeling tired, or shows signs of fatigue in the hours when they would normally be active, they may be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Other signs of sleep deprivation in kids are an inability to fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, or if they often wake up at night.
Causes of Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders in children are often a symptom of other problems, often over-stimulation and bad sleeping habits.
Children that are starting school may find it difficult to wake and follow a new routine every morning, or they may even be stressed by the demands of formally learning new information each day – not to mention all the implications of meeting new classmates, teachers, etc.
Older children more easily suffer stress, especially when studying for tests and exams, and from social situations – such as difficulties with their friends, or bullying at school.
All of these are indications that your child might need something when it comes to sleeping, to be able to cope with everyday challenges. Natural sleep aids for children are a possibility.
Behavioral Sleep Remedies
Although there are several herbal and natural sleep aids for children, sleep experts recommend changes in daytime and bedtime routines as the most effective remedies for sleep disorders.
Establish a Routine
Nothing can be more natural than sleeping, and children, like everyone else, have a natural ability to discern when to stay awake and when to sleep. HOWEVER, in modern day society we have lots of weird conventions, habits and patterns – many of which ‘force’ us disrupt our natural pattern of sleeping vs. being awake. Thus, we do the same to our children. Therefore you may need the following pieces of advice:
In modern society children are often / usually unable to set their own schedules for sleeping and waking, and so they need to be guided by their parents. Be tough about sticking to a set bed-time.
- Turn off the television and computer games a few hours before bedtime. These can over-stimulate your child and make it difficult for them to calm down and go to sleep.
- Set a routine for going to bed – such as having a bath, dressing for bed, and a gentle bed time story. This establishes a sense of security and helps your child transition into sleep.
- Get you children out of bed at a regular time. Sleeping very late on weekends can upset their body clock and create problems during the week for children going to school.
Create a Comfortable and Effective Sleeping Environment
- Make your child comfortable. Their bedroom should be a moderate temperature, and most children are more comfortable in cotton clothing and bedding than in synthetic fabrics.
- Make sure your child’s sleeping place is free from excessive light or noise. Darkness triggers the production of melatonin in the brain, one of the most important sleep hormones, and a child’s room should be as dark as possible when they sleep.
- A dim night light or digital clock may be suitable for children who are afraid of dark, but never a television or computer monitor – the flickering is thought to cause sleep problems.
- Bright light in the morning is also important for regulating melatonin levels, so draw back the curtains or even send them outside for a few minutes to help them wake up.
Diet, Exercise, and Health
- Avoid late night snacks, especially anything with a lot of sugar or caffeine – such as soda pop drinks. Try cutting out all sugary foods after 3pm to see if that helps – it very well might.
- Avoid energetic activities before bed time, such as rough play, which can over-stimulate a child and make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
- Regular exercise during the day, however, is vital to your child’s health, and will help ensure they are tired at night.
- Sometimes an illness like a cold of influenza can cause aches and pains that keep children awake. Check their temperature and keep an eye out for signs of illness or discomfort.
- Stress can also affect a child’s sleep. Talk with them often, and encourage them to tell you about their problems – but avoid making them more stressed by interrogating them. A gentle talk before they sleep can help reassure them about any worries.
Natural Sleep Aids for Children: Baby Sleep Aids
Babies do not establish a regular sleep pattern until they are about four or five months old, but these first months are important for creating sleep habits that will last them through their first few years.
A small soft toy or a favorite blanket given to them at bedtime can develop into a ‘prompt’ that can signal to your baby that it is time to sleep.
The sleep aids below may also be useful for helping your baby nod off. Look below for some great tips!
Infant Sleep Aids
Infants more than about a year old can often develop separation anxiety when they are put to bed alone. This anxiety may show itself as a fear of the dark, or even a fear of night-time “monsters”. At this very active stage in their lives, ensure your child is getting enough exercise during the day to “wear them out” and make them tired enough to sleep through the night. The following sleep aids for kids may also be helpful …
Warm Milk, Including Breast Milk
One of the world’s oldest natural sleep aids, warm milk is an effective sleep aid for children of all ages, as well as adults. Nursing infants and children (as well as adults practicing adult breastfeeding) will be greatly calmed by breastfeeding, but you can use other kinds of milk as well.
Most milk (both breast milk and cow milk) is rich in tryptophan, an amino acid related to melatonin, and also the protein lactium which causes relaxation in infants.
Very young babies respond to being snugly wrapped in a blanket for warmth and security – a practice known as ‘swaddling’. The close contact of the blanket is thought to mimic the sensations of the womb, and can also help keep a baby from being awakened by their own movements at night. Leave your baby’s head uncovered to avoid overheating.
Rocking a baby to sleep in a cradle or a hammock is one of the time-tested ways to help them sleep. Motorized bassinets are available that achieve a similar effect, and some parents even set their baby’s bassinet on top of a running drier (be absolutely sure that you stay with your baby, the movements of the running drier can make the bassinet fall down if let alone).
Recordings of ambient sounds like rainfall, running water, or ocean waves, have been found effective in helping children fall asleep. You can purchase CDs and tapes of suitable sleep sounds, or record your own – pretty simple to do with a recorder if you live near water or if you have access to a place with a tin roof or similar on a rainy day (a car might do, too).
Tapes and compact disks of gentle music, such as lullabies and classical music, can also be an effective baby sleep aid. The ideal music is a lullaby sung by parents, since your child responds best to your voice, but a sleep tape or disk can take over when you’ve finished singing.
White Noise (Static) and/or Repetitive Sound
Some parents turn on their hair dryer or a radio set at a low sound level in between stations, thus producing a static sound that for some reason helps children sleep. Some babies even use to fall asleep when they listen to the noise from the vacuum cleaner or the electric toothbrush.
But you can also purchase a so-called white noise machine. Running one of those is probably cheaper than running your hair dryer (since the hair dryer’s actual purpose is to produce warm, dry air). White noise machines work in a similar way as ambient recordings, by making a calming low-level background sound that can help your child fall asleep.
Both ambient sound, gentle music and white noise machines may also help cancel out background noise, such as the sound of street traffic, television or noise from older children in the house who are still awake.
Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers
Thumb-sucking is normal and healthy in babies, although it can be the cause of dental problems in much older children who are getting their permanent teeth.
A baby has a natural urge to suck, and sucking on their thumb can relax them and help them to sleep.
Pacifiers serve the same purpose.
A Dim Night Light
A dim night light can help reassure your child that their surroundings are safe, and prevent confusion if they wake during the night. It is important that the night light be only just bright enough to be dimly visible – too much light can affect the brain’s production of melatonin, an important sleeping hormone, thus disrupting the quality and benefits of your kid’s sleep.
Herbal Sleep Aids for Children
Some children need some temporary help to restore their sleep patterns, and several herbal sleep aids for children are available over the counter from drugstores and pharmacies.
Before starting your child on any of these, have your doctor check your child’s health to ensure that their sleep problems are not caused by an underlying medical condition.
In any case, herbal sleep aids are generally not recommended for children younger than 10 years old.
Warning: NEVER give children any sleep medication intended for adults, such as prescription sleeping pills and most natural sleep aids! Always check with your doctor before administering any sort of medication – natural or otherwise – to your children. Even herbal sleep aids have the potential for side effects, such as allergic reactions. That said, here are some herbal sleep aids for children …
The herb Chamomile is a traditional remedy for poor sleep, and considered safe for children. Chamomile can be taken as a tea, and is often included as an ingredient in natural sleep aids for children. Some people can have an allergic reaction to chamomile, with symptoms such as skin rashes, dizziness and difficulty breathing.
Lemon balm is another popular ingredient of herbal sleep aids for children. It is not associated with any toxicity or side effects, but there are no studies that prove its long-term safety.
Passion flower is thought to be a safe herbal sleep aid for kids, but can have the occasional side effect of causing drowsiness during the day.
Valerian root is usually combined in low doses with other herbal ingredients in kids sleep aids, especially lemon balm. As with all substances that have an effect on the body, there may be some risks of side effects – while Valerian root is not thought to cause dependencies, some people who take Valerian root can suffer headaches, excitability and drowsiness.
Melatonin has been used clinically to treat sleeping disorders in some children with autism and other developmental disorders, but it is generally not recommended for use with children who have not been diagnosed with such disorders.
Natural Sleep Aids for Children – the Conclusion
Children really their sleep! If your kid has trouble sleeping the first thing to do is check for stress factors in your child’s daily life – as well as possible medical conditions. With those minimized or eliminated there are many options open to you, both behavioral sleep remedies, measures to do with sleeping environment, diet, exercise, and health.
Even if all of those fail you can never use sleep aids for adults, but you might use the most gentle of herbal sleep aids for children like chamomile and lemon balm tea. Good luck!
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