15 Natural Sleep Aids for Kids

Posted by Dr. Ian Stern on

Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern

Most parents have seen the effects of poor sleep on their kids. With interrupted or inadequate sleep, the little ones become cranky and moody the next day. Not surprisingly, there are more tantrums and meltdowns.

They are more likely to misbehave and less likely to pay attention and do their homework. As a result, parents and teachers are frustrated, and the kids are miserable. And it’s no one’s fault! Vitamin Zzzz is essential for all, and kids especially. As they are growing and developing, good quality sleep, and the right amount of it, is more important to children than we can even imagine.

Sleep is also imperative to good health. When kids get the sleep they need, they may have a lower risk of becoming overweight. They may have fewer learning problems and attention issues. The growing rate of ADHD in kids may well be linked to inadequate sleep, or a kid who is sleep deprived may be misdiagnosed with ADHD since the symptoms are almost identical. Sleep is at least as important as nutrition and exercise.

However, even if we understand the importance of sleep for our kids, putting them to bed on time and having them sleep through the night can be challenging, to say the least, especially with parents working longer hours, more elaborate after-school activities, and bedrooms full of cool electronics.

It can be difficult to recognize all the activities and bad habits that may be sabotaging their sleep. But the good news is that there are numerous ways you can help your kiddies have the good night’s sleep they so much require. Some of these ways are described below.

1. Ditch Blue Light After Dinner

Light emitted from TV and electronic screens, such as phones, tablets, and computers, affects the brain's release of melatonin and impacts the ability to fall and stay asleep. Melatonin is a chemical that occurs naturally and signals sleep to the body.

Just two hours of screen time at night is enough to lower levels of melatonin by as much as 25 percent. Aim to reduce blue light sources two to three hours before bed. At the very least, ensure that all devices have a blue light filter for night-time hours.

2. Exercise During the Day

Make sure your kids get to run around and play during daytime hours. The more energy they spend during the day, the better they will sleep at night. However, too much exercise before bedtime can raise cortisol levels, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Exercise early in the day may provide the ideal blood pressure reduction, as well as maximize deep sleep. Getting your kids involved in sports, gymnastics, martial arts, or other group exercise programs can be helpful. In addition, make sure they have at least half an hour per day of outdoors time to run around and be kids.

3. Keep Regular Sleep And Wake Times

Going to bed and waking up at the same time will train the body to fall asleep and wake up easily. Your kid’s body has an internal clock, a.k.a. the circadian rhythm, which plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

This clock is impacted by melatonin, which takes its cues from the amount of light present in the environment. An inconsistent sleep schedule throws off the internal clock, and many times prevents our kids from entering deep sleep, which is very important for the body to fully restore itself. So it’s important to pick a sleeping schedule and stick to it. Keep in mind that it may take the kids a few days to adjust to a new schedule, so don’t give up right away.

4. No Naps Before Bedtime

It may seem obvious, but napping too long or too close to bedtime may prevent the kids from falling asleep at night, when they truly need to. Most kids stop napping by the time they are five years old. If your kid is over the age of five and still napping, try to keep the naps to no longer than 20 minutes and no later than 2 PM.

5. Relax Before Bedtime

It’s important to let the body unwind before bedtime. Keep before bedtime activities calm, the lights dim, and the environment quiet. Physically active and loud activities may produce excess amounts of cortisol, which will keep the kids up later.

6. Loving Bedtime Routine

Establish a nice bedtime routine for the kids. These bedtime activities signal to them that bedtime is approaching. This could be a good time for a relaxing bath, brushing their hair and teeth, and story time.

Make the kids feel especially loved, relaxed, and comforted during these activities. Praise them for the things they did well that day, give encouragement, and be affectionate. Reading a bedtime story is a great bonding activity. Not only does it cultivate imagination and improves their attention and cognitive skills, but it also eases anxiety. The sound of a parent’s voice is soothing and comforting to a child.

7. Essential Oils

Integrating essential oils into the bedtime routine can be greatly rewarding. Scents can have positive effects on mood, stress-reduction, and sleep enhancement. The capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures, the limbic system.

The olfactory center also interacts directly with the hippocampus, a brain area involved in the formation of new memories, so if you use the same scents at nighttime before bed, soon the child will begin to associate the smell with sleep, which will further intensify the therapeutic effects.

Here are some nice essential oils to use in a diffuser during nighttime hours. You can also create pillow sprays by diluting them with water. Be careful not to apply essential oils directly on skin as allergic reactions may occur. Some essential oils need to be diluted with carrier oils for topical application.

  • Jasmine - a great sleep aid, which promotes deep sleep and a greater level of alertness the next day.
  • Lavender - great for unwinding, can decrease heart rate, preparing the body for sleep
  • Bergamot - may improve negative emotions. According to a 2015 study, it may also lower saliva cortisol levels [1].
  • Lemon - often used to improve mood, relieve stress, and promote sleep
  • Rose - reduces anxiety, improves mood, and promotes sleep.

8. Epsom Salt Baths

Adding about 300 grams of epsom salt to a tub full of warm water can do wonders in relaxing the body and mind. Epsom salt is full of magnesium, which is absorbed by the skin and boosts serotonin levels, creating a feeling of calm and well-being. Try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil as well to further intensify the calming effect. Be cautious to avoid contact with the face, especially the eyes.

9. Omit Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent lights are brighter and bluer in nature and produce a constant flicker, which makes us feel jittery, increases stress levels and cortisol, lowers melatonin and disrupts circadian rhythms. Numerous studies point to light quality, color temperature, or certain spectral patterns inducing a stress response [2].

Although the flicker is unperceived by the visual cortex of the eye, where we perceive images, the light signals hit the eye’s retina and travel to the circadian pathways. For better sleep at night, try to stay away from fluorescent lights. Consider changing to incandescent light bulbs at home.

10. Make Sure Your Child Feels Safe

Lots of kids have some fears associated with going to sleep. Talk to your children during the day about what scares them about going to sleep at night. A predictable bedtime routine, where a child feels loved and accepted will greatly help with this.

In addition, a comforting teddy bear might help. Although it’s better to sleep in the dark, if your child is afraid of the dark, a very dim night light might help them fall asleep. Turn off the night light half an hour after the kid is asleep.

11. Get Plenty Of Sunlight During The Day

Sunlight is imperative in regulating our sleeping patterns. Direct sunlight in the morning hours is especially helpful for not only waking up in the morning, but also falling asleep later that night.

Keeping a regular schedule with a consistent wake time coupled with exposure to sunlight as part of a morning ritual is an extremely helpful combination. If your kid is struggling to fall asleep at night, begin to regularly expose him or her to morning sunlight. You will find that his/her sleep and daytime function improve significantly.

12. Avoid Sugar, Food Dyes, and Caffeine

Sugar, food dyes, and caffeine generally are no good for kids. Eating lots of sugar early in life is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and type 2 diabetes. The worst sugars are in soda, processed foods, candy bars, and popsicles. High levels of sugar can interfere with the neurotransmitters in the brain and affect children’s moods, memory, and behavior. Children under the age of 2 should not have added sugar at all. Older kids can have an occasional sugary treat, but no more than 4 tablespoons of sugar per day.

Food dyes have zero nutritional value, and there is substantial evidence that they trigger hyperactivity in kids [3]. The amount of dyes found in kids’ products is scary. They are in cereals, desserts, mustard, hot chocolate mixes, cotton candy, popsicles, as well as canned vegetables, and so many other products.

Unfortunately, caffeine also made its way into the ingredients of many popular products consumed by kids. Caffeine raises blood pressure, cretes jitteriness and nervousness, and can lead to poor ability to concentrate. Many sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks contain great amounts of all three of the above mentioned ingredients (sugar, dyes, and caffeine) in one drink, making them extremely harmful.

And all three of these things can definitely contribute to sleep problems. One of the best things you can do to help your kids develop, grow, and sleep better is to limit their consumption of harmful foods and drinks.

13. Massage for Sleep

Additionally, you can help your kid fall asleep by adding a relaxing massage into the bedtime routine. Massage their shoulders and neck gently. Concentrate on the points on the back of the neck where your neck muscles connect to the skull, and apply firmer pressure there.

Rub their tummy in a circular clockwise motion -- this can also help any digestive issues, which may be keeping them up. Applying some diluted essential oils (see list above) during the massage can be helpful as well.

14. Create A Cool Comfortable Sleep Environment

Cooler temperatures are better for sleep. As we sleep, our body temperatures fall naturally to allow us to recharge and cycle through the different stages of sleep. Introducing the body to a cooler environment (ideally 65-67 degrees), prepares us for sleep and helps to enter the deep stages of sleep faster. Dimming the lights before bedtime is also a good idea as it triggers melatonin to take effect, which makes us sleepy.

15. Herbal Teas

Having an herbal tea before bed can help the kids fall asleep as well. Some of these include holy basil, lemon balm, chamomile, rooibos, and mint. You can also add some warm milk and half a teaspoon of honey to the tea to make it tastier for kids.

Why Sleep is Important for Kids

When kids don’t get enough quality sleep, they don’t necessarily act sleepy or tired the way adults often do. In fact, they are more likely to be hyperactive and irritable, which not only affects their performance during the day but also makes it harder for them to fall asleep again at night.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, infants should sleep 12 to 15 hours in a 24 hour period, toddlers need 11 to 14 hours, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, and school-aged children need 9 to 11 hours every night. Here is why quality sleep for kids is important:

  • It allows the body to restore itself - It's when the body repackages neurotransmitters, chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate.
  • Sleep helps the immune system - During sleep, children (and adults) produce proteins known as cytokines, which the body relies on to fight infection, illness, and stress.
  • Sleep helps them grow - During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.
  • Sleep helps them develop and learn - Kids of all ages learn better when they have adequate sleep. In a study where kids played a memory game and then napped one week, and played the game and stayed awake another week, they forgot about 15% more of the information when they stayed awake versus when they took a nap. The kids’ attention span also becomes considerably shorter the less they sleep.
  • Lack of sleep can lead to irritability and hyperactivity.
  • Lack of sleep increases the risk of obesity, heart problems, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?

While I’ve written earlier about the importance of the production of melatonin in the body, I do not recommend taking melatonin as a supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland, and which is responsible for your body's sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. If taken as a supplement, the natural production of melatonin in the body may be affected.

Also, there are some studies that suggest that melatonin may affect the function of reproductive organs, thereby impacting the kids’ sexual development.

My “Relax” product is a cultivation of many years of research on quality sleep. “Relax” is a soothing and nourishing formula, which is safe for kids, and which doesn’t try to artificially simulate what your body is supposed to do on its own. Instead, it uses a combination of natural ingredients to gently nudge your adrenal system back to a state of healthy equilibrium, helping you and your kids get the quality sleep you deserve and wake up refreshed and energized. Click here to learn more.


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