Author: Angelique Bone Date Posted:13 February 2019
Kids and their Sleep
“I don’t want to go to bed. I’m not tired!” These are words that every parent has probably heard way too often. Bed time can be a battle for many parents, even with children that generally sleep well. For parents who have children who struggle to fall asleep, this battle of wills can continue for well over an hour. Add to that night time waking, and the result can be both cranky, overtired children and exhausted, short-tempered parents.
Sleep in childhood
Sleep is essential at every stage of life, and getting enough sleep is so important for children because it is vital to their development, both physical and cognitive.¹ Children also cycle through REM and non-REM sleep, though their sleep cycles are generally shorter, starting at just 40 minutes in babies, then becoming longer. Adults’ sleep cycles are generally 90 minutes in length. As such, children tend to have a larger proportion of REM sleep than adults do.¹
How much sleep children need tends to vary and there seems to be no one correct answer for this. It has been found that the time kids go to sleep and rise, as well as how often they wake during the night, might have a bigger impact on their behaviour and health than the total duration of sleep.¹ There are different reasons sleep problems can occur. Some are medical, such as when your child is unwell, in pain or uncomfortable. If you suspect this might be the case, please consult your doctor for advice. Most sleep problems, however, are considered behavioural and can include trouble falling asleep, frequent waking or early waking.¹ Sometimes, to the annoyance of many a parent, it is a combination of these.
The good news is that there are tools we can use to help our little ones get the sleep they so desperately need. While we’re not going to go into sleep training in this article (we’ll leave that to the sleep experts), let’s have a look at some of the aids which may help children who struggle with sleep.
Calming Oils for a Restful Sleep
Some children respond quite well to essential oils, and diffusing some in their bedroom can be a lovely gentle way to help them get to sleep and stay asleep. Significant positive effects on sleep have been found with both lavender and jasmine oils,² while Lavender oil added to the bathwater of babies has also shown to help improve their sleep quality.³
You can diffuse oils individually or make your own blend according to your preferences. Other oils you might consider are chamomile, neroli and violet, which have relaxing properties.⁴ Be aware that some oils have stimulating properties, so do some research before experimenting with your own blends or consult an aromatherapist. Pre-mixed sleep blends are also available.
We often hear of soothing music or sounds being used as an aid to soothe babies and settle them to sleep. Music is also helpful for older children. Various studies have indicated that playing music at bedtime can reduce sleep onset time and also improve sleep quality, both in adults and children.⁵ Another study found that playing background music for children at bedtime can help to improve sleep duration and sleep efficiency.⁵
Does the type of music make a difference? Well, most of the studies have been done using music with a slow to moderate tempo (between 60 to 80 beats per minute).⁵ Sleep expert Michael Breus suggests music with no words is best, as is something that doesn’t evoke strong emotions.⁶ Playing your child’s favourite nursery rhyme which they dance and play to by day is unlikely to get them to settle at bedtime. Some soothing lullabies, on the other hand, may do the trick.
We often get told that routine is important for babies and can help them to settle into a healthy sleeping pattern. The same can be said for toddlers and school aged children and even us adults! Sticking to set bedtimes and following a similar bedtime routine regularly can help your child adjust to the fact that it is bedtime and helps them to feel sleepy and ready for bed.⁷ In other words, it helps to set their body clock. For example, you may give your child a bath, brush their teeth and then read a bedtime story to help get the ready for bed. After the story it’s lights out and time to sleep. The important thing is to find a routine that works for your family. There is no one routine or set of rules that will suit everyone.⁷
One important aspect of a bedtime routine is the consistency in bedtime. Not only does it make planning your routine easier⁷, but it also helps to regulate their body clock, helping them to fall asleep more easily.⁸ Furthermore, once they are in bed, try to get your kids to stay in bed⁷. If they’re in the habit of asking for drinks, giving them one before bed or keeping a bottle of water by the bed may be the way to go to prevent your kids from getting back up (Please note: this is not recommended if your child tends to wet the bed).
Whichever routine you choose to follow, try and stick to your guns and be persistent with it to help your children get a good night’s sleep.
Lights out means tech equipment off
One rule we have had to implement in our house for the older children is the no phones, laptops or iPads in the bedroom during sleep time rule. Why? Because if it’s in the room, they’ll play with it in bed, and if they’re playing with it, they’re not sleeping. Not only does it eat into their sleep time though, the light emitted from these devices can also affect their sleep quality. A study has shown that using mobile phones to communicate with friends after lights out is fairly common practice amongst teenagers and this does affect their level of daytime tiredness over time.⁹ A further study showed that those who used their mobile phones after lights out, were more likely to have shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and excessive sleepiness by day.¹⁰
Further, blue light also reduces the body’s natural melatonin (sleep hormone) production, leading to alertness by night and potentially re-setting the body clock so kids feel sleepy later, ¹¹ which is not ideal when they have to get up early for school the next day, or are just naturally early risers, regardless of what time they go to bed.
Supplements for Sleep
For those who find that their child/children may need a little more support, some supplements are available for children to help them get a good night’s sleep. Magnesium helps to support the nervous system and has a calming effect by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.¹²ʼ ¹³ Herbs such as passionflower and lemon balm are often used to help with sleep as well. Passionflower has been shown to help support relaxation and sleep¹⁴, while Lemon Balm is also indicated in disturbed sleep. It is often used in combination with other sedative herbs.¹⁵
When it comes to supplementing your kids with sleep aids, there are some products available over the counter, however my suggestion would be to seek advice from a naturopath before supplementing, as they will be able to help you determine which supplement, herbs or combination would be right for your child.
Dealing with sleep disturbances in children can be frustrating, but once your child is able to get a good night’s rest the results will be very rewarding. If you feel that there may be more to your child’s sleep issues than meets the eye, please consult your doctor or healthcare professional for a proper assessment.
5. Leepeng PT, 2004, “The effects of Background Music on Quality of Sleep in Elementary School Children”, Journal of Music Therapy , Vol. 41(2), pp. 128-150.
9. Van den Bulck J, 2007, “Adolescent use of mobile phones for calling and for sending text messages after lights out: Results from a prospective cohort study with a one-year follow-up”, Sleep, Vol. 30(9), pp. 1220 – 1223.
10. Munezawa T; Kaneita Y; Osaki Y et al 2011, “The association between use of mobile phones after lights out and sleep disturbances among Japanese Adolescents: A Nationwide Cross-sectional survey”, Sleep, vol. 34(8), pp. 1013 – 1020. [Abstract]
|Written by Angelique Bone|
Angelique (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for herbal medicine and helping other people feel the best that they can. She believes that balance and moderation is important in maintaining good health.
Angelique enjoys reading, spending time with her family and baking goodies with her two young boys.