Every parent is aware of the importance of proper sleep for their children, but the question inevitably arises about how to get the kids to fall and stay asleep.
Store shelves are full of miracle sleep aids for adults, but only a handful for children. Are products even safe to give to children? When is it appropriate to resort to medication for sleep?
Parents unwilling to go the medicinal route have other options, but may not know what they are.
The internet is flooded with parental advice, including the topic of sleep for children. How does a parent choose which advice to follow? Which tactics should be disregarded?
The simple answer to the problem of getting kids to sleep is trial and error.
Try to uncover why the child is having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, and go from there. A simple change could be all that’s required, or an entire reworking of the child’s habits, and/or lifestyle choices.
The following article explores ten categories of sleep aids for children, how the aid helps, and why.
A word of caution: a pediatrician should be consulted before using any product, herb, or implementing a change of diet.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the brain, which regulates sleep and wakefulness.
Over-the-counter Melatonin can be purchased in drug stores in pill or liquid form as sleep aids for both adults and children.
A Melatonin supplement is thought to replace or enhance the body’s natural Melatonin, aiding in the ability to fall asleep.
Melatonin reacts to light, increasing in amount in the body’s system as night descends. This increase is what triggers sleep.
There is some controversy over whether or not Melatonin is effective enough to justify use in children.
A child’s doctor should always be consulted before administering any supplement.
Melatonin is commonly used or recommended by doctors for a variety of other ailments, including:
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Respiratory inflammations
- Incontinence (primarily bedwetting and the like)
- Sedation purposes
- Rett’s Syndrome
2. Sleep Schedules
Establishing a sleep schedule for a child can be tricky. There are many factors to take into consideration. The age of the child, their routine, and the child’s natural sleep patterns should all be taken into account when determining a sleep schedule routine or modification.
Routine is the cornerstone for building a habit within a child’s behavior. A child is calmer and more likely to cooperate if a schedule is part of their bedtime.
Not every child is the same. Some need more sleep than others.
Children who are sleep deprived or suffer from sleep disorders can exhibit a numbers of behaviors or symptoms, including:
- Sleepiness during the day
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Falling asleep during the day (especially if the child no longer naps)
- Irritability or moodiness
- Suffers from nightmares or night terrors
- Frequently wakes throughout the night
- Trouble in school (academically or behaviorally)
Poor diets are not the only diet that can be an obstacle to sleep. Even a well-balanced diet can have problems. Caffeine is the main dietary pitfall to avoid. Children consume sugary beverages and foods that contain sugar, often without the parent’s knowledge.
Foods with high sugar contents or caffeine can keep children awake, even if that consumption happened much earlier in the day.
Drinks to avoid or limit significantly:
- Tea (hot or iced)
- Hot chocolate
- Juice boxes and bottled juices
Beverage consumption should be closely monitored and sugary drinks and snacks kept to a minimum throughout the day.
Water is recommended to drink in the hours before bedtime or during the night.
The less sugar or caffeine in a child’s system, the less likely they will have a renewed burst of energy at bedtime.
Research has shown that children who live active lifestyles have a much easier time falling asleep at night. On the contrary, children who lead sentient lifestyles, do not expend enough energy throughout the day to fall off to sleep within a reasonable time frame.
Activity and exercise are generally in better health, weight less, and have an easier time waking in the morning.
Exercise and activity should be performed during the day. Even active children need time to wind down in the evening.
Therefore, activity at night should be discouraged. Instead, evenings should consist of quiet, calming routine. This routine will give children the time they need to adjust to their bedtime, making sleeping less of a struggle.
In the age of new gadgets and technology, electronic devices over stimulate much of today’s youth. Studies have been conducted, and evidence has been found that electronic device usage by children can lead to sleeplessness.
Limiting iPod, Smart Phone, Tablet, iPad, video games, and computer use before bed can greatly reduce the brain stimulation.
As with any nighttime routine, a period of quiet for children should be implemented an hour or two before their actual bedtime. This includes taking away all devices. Quietly reading or being read to are better alternatives, and allow the child to relax.
Older children may have a more difficult time letting go of their electronics before bed. This can be solved by setting rules about when the devices should be turned off, and sticking to those rules no matter what reactions the demand elicits.
6. Lotions and Aromatherapy
Soothing and calming lotions are available in a wide range of varieties for infants and children. A common ingredient in these “nighttime” lotions is lavender. The lavender, and sometimes other scents, creates a sort of aromatherapy to use to relax the child.
Unscented lotions are also available for children (or parents) who are sensitive to certain smells or irritants. The simple act of rubbing the lotion massages and relaxes muscles. This calms the child and prepares them for bed.
It is important to be aware of allergies when using lotion. Read the labels and determine if any ingredients cause allergic reactions or irritate the skin. Always look for signs of rash, swelling, or troubled breathing. These are all signs of a serious allergic reaction.
Bath time is often considered another playtime for children. However, since most children’s baths are conducted before bed, this should be another opportunity for relaxation.
Be mindful of the water temperature. Keep the water comfortably warm to soothe the child and relax their muscles. The water should lull him or her, not jar them awake because the water is too hot or cold.
Do not invite activity. Remove all toys and items that have the potential to become toys. Encourage the child to relax, wash, and get out in short order. Dry the child and bundle them into warm pajamas, a cozy bed, and a darkened room to promote sleepiness.
Complete the relaxation routine by reading a bedtime story and tucking the child in. Take full advantage of the relaxation from the shower and do well to keep that sense of calm until the child nods off to sleep.
8. Comfort Items
Depending on the age of the child, a comfort item may be a wholly appropriate sleep aid. Infants are often given pacifiers or bottles to lull them to sleep. This works well, but should be done with caution. Never allow a child to fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice. Water is the only appropriate choice to ward off bottle rot.
When the child is older, stuffed animals or blankets may act as their soothing device. Infants should not be placed in a crib with toys and extra coverings due to the suffocation risks. Older children should be limited to a few select comfort items to discourage play in bed.
As a child ages, the need for the comfort item usually drops off naturally, but there may be occasion for a parent to intervene and gently ease the item from the child in a manner that is the least traumatic for them.
Herbs are generally thought of as a safe way to induce sleepiness in children. Regardless of how harmless an herb may seem, consult a physician before administering the herb to a child.
The most common form of chamomile is tea. Widely available and easy to find, chamomile can be an alternative to over-the-counter sleep aid products. Chamomile dosage for children should be limited, however.
Known for its relaxing and calming properties, lavender is a go-to for soothing the nerves.
One of the best ways to use lavender is to purchase lavender oil, add a few drops into the water of a humidifier, and run the machine normally. The air will be infused with a lavender scent. Place the humidifier in a child’s room, so they can breathe in the scent throughout the night.
Taking a daily multi-vitamin is usually enough for most children. Unfortunately, some people have deficiencies in certain vitamins. This can be do to an illness or condition, environmental factors, or an unknown cause.
Below are some of the vitamins believed to have links to the sleep cycle.
- B3: Increases deep sleep cycles.
- B6: Increases production of serotonin, which calms the body in preparation for rest and sleep.
- Calcium: Assists the nervous system in relaxation and calming.
- D: Increases wakefulness during daytime hours.
- Folic Acid: Reduces incidences of insomnia.
- Magnesium: Helps improve or reverse a variety of sleeping disorders.
Before choosing a supplement for a child, consult with a pediatrician.
Sleep is essential for the body and mind to function normally. This is especially true for children as they grow and develop. If a child has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or staying awake during the day, the parent should do their best to determine what the root cause of the problem may be.
Sleeping problems can occur for many different reasons. Simple comfort items or relaxation techniques may be all that is needed. In other cases, more intensive measures might need to be taken.
Before resorting to giving a child any product, supplement, or ingestible sleep aid, consult a doctor. This step will not only ensure that the child’s health is looked after, but can also determine if there is a medical issue that needs to be addressed.
A sleep aid should be chosen, not out of convenience, but as the best solution for the child.