Now that school has started in most parts of the U.S., parents are getting their kids back into regular routines. While the summer doesn't always mean unhealthy habits, some kids don't transition well from summertime freedom into a schedule with early bedtimes and earlier mornings.
Helping a child unwind is not always as simple as with an adult. Children can't communicate as effectively about what could be keeping them awake or preventing them from getting great sleep. And yet children are also affected by the same things that can wreck an adult's sleep: anxiety, restlessness, stress, or even dreading the next day.
The good news is that there are several natural ways to improve a child's sleep quality. Below are the top research-backed ways.
1. Optimize Their Sleep Environment
Whether you're an adult or child, not sleeping in an area primed for optimal rest can distract the brain, even subtly, leading to sleep disruption. While you might feel comfortable with your child's sleep environment, it's always a good idea to reassess.
The primary ways that a sleep environment can make it hard to fall or stay asleep are:
Light: Too much light in the room, outside the window, or elsewhere in view. This could be from a night light, alarm clock, or a security light outside the window. Change any night lights to orange or yellow-hued tones, which don't disrupt melatonin in the brain as much as blue-hued lights do. If you're using an LED night light, this will often be a bright blue or white light and could be part of the problem. Regardless of your child's age, consider trying a night without a night light. Some adjust quite well to sleeping in a much darker room.
Noise: Too much noise from other rooms in the house, street traffic outside, or even another sibling sharing a room can be disruptive to a good night's sleep. If you don't have a white noise machine of some kind in your child's room, consider adding one. While you won't want to use it at full volume, a well-placed noise machine set at medium or low can be highly effective. Place the white noise between your child and the source of the greatest noise.
Heat: Most parents don't want their kids to get cold at night, especially when they're too young to easily reach down and adjust the covers. However, the best room temperature for an optimal night of sleep is between 65 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit. If your house is even a few degrees warmer than this, it could result in more sleep disruptions. If your child's bedding is too light or too heavy, it could disturb the sleeping temperature. Even their pajamas could affect it. Instead of heavy pajamas and blankets, choose lighter, breathable layers that can be added or taken away as needed, depending on the season.
Routine: The brain loves routine, and when a typical pattern is established, it can signal to the brain that it's time to wind down and go to sleep. Sticking to the same pattern and time frame as often as possible will promote better long-term rest. Depending on the child's age, s/he might require different hours of sleep for health, but a late bedtime is usually a big culprit in leading to a disruptive night of sleep.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It is essential for bone health and muscle health and also acts as an electrolyte. Even though magnesium is found in many foods (such as almonds, spinach, avocado, and bananas), adults and children alike can run low on this vital nutrient.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for children varies depending on their age.
- 1-3 years: 80 mg
- 4-8 years: 130 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- 14-18 years: 410 mg for males, 360 mg for females
Magnesium glycinate is the form that absorbs best without causing side effects, so opt for this and make sure to choose a milligram dose in the right range for your child. Always speak with your child's doctor before starting them on a supplement, since individual health conditions could dictate which supplements are safe or recommended. If you do supplement with magnesium, it is best taken before bed to promote rest, relaxation, and calm. Magnesium supplements for children are often found in tablet or powder form.
Adults and children can both struggle to relax for sleep time because of the day's pressures, ongoing stress, or general inability to wind down. Lavender aromatherapy can help to increase relaxation, address insomnia, and boost the quality of sleep you can get.
With children, extra caution needs to be used with essential oils. Diffusing them and being around them in moderate amounts is safe, but some cautions exist for male children in exposing them daily to lavender. The National Institutes of Health warns that there is some evidence that lavender can cause gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in males), although none of the clinical trials done on lavender have revealed this to be true in human subjects. If you use essential oils in your daily routine, consider the volume of exposure that male children could be getting and always speak with their doctor for personalized recommendations.
Chamomile has been used for centuries as a relaxing herb that can help calm the mind without leading to dependency or next-day drowsiness. It's safe for children, too, and is featured prominently in WishGarden's Growing Pains for Kids herbal formula.
Part of the reason that children can struggle to sleep is that they're frequently in a rapid stage of development, whether it's physical, mental, or emotional. Chamomile supports healthy sleep and relaxation thanks to the presence of apigenin, a bioflavonoid compound that it contains in high amounts.
Passionflower is another herbal staple that has been used for centuries to promote sleep, rest, and calm. It is shown by research to be effective at supporting healthy sleep. It can also help to soothe anxiety and stress in children.
Passionflower has almost no side effects (still best to check with your child's doctor) and is not habit-forming, but it could lead to next-day drowsiness, which is harder for children to overcome.
Sleepy Nights for Kids and Quiet Time for Kids are two gentle herbal formulations that rely on passionflower and complementary herbs to help promote rest, calm, and relaxation. If they lead to next-day drowsiness in your child, consider having your child take them earlier in the evening, reduce the amount taken, or use a different sleep supporting alternative.
Writer Aimee McNew has a Master's in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP).
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.