Do you have a child that struggles with getting enough sleep? Maybe your kid has a lot of energy and doesn’t know how to relax at bedtime. Maybe routine is really difficult for them, so they fight with you about going to bed on time. Night terrors, indigestion, big emotions: just because kids are tired doesn’t mean they can always sleep.
Luckily, there are some things you can try to help your child sleep better before seeing a doctor or specialist.
First, check out some natural sleep remedies for kids that countless families have found helpful for their children.
Why is sleep important for children?
We all know what it’s like to not get enough sleep. You feel moody, easily agitated, and unfocused—plus, little sleep takes a big toll on your physical health over time. Our bodies do some of their best work while we’re sleeping, and that’s as fully grown adults.
Now imagine the effects of children getting interrupted or limited sleep. Kids are always going through some level of growth; learning how to regulate their emotions, exercising and nourishing their bodies, adjusting to new routines with friends and school, etc. Not only is sleep essential for their physical, mental, and emotional development, but without it, children don’t have a sense of normalcy.
Consistent poor sleep in children can contribute to digestive issues, immune system problems, focus and behavior challenges, anxiety and depression, and other health concerns. Not only are their frustrating consequences for poor sleep, but there are some noticeable benefits from getting enough sleep.
The most obvious benefit of sleep is the energy it gives us, but rest is also key for children’s bodies to grow properly.
Other positive effects of deep sleep for kids include:
- Better growth hormone production
- Healthy weight management
- Protein production that fights germs and stress
- Lower injury risk
- Repaired muscles
Sleep is essential for brain function and development for kids. It also affects the day-to-day for kids.
Those effects look like:
- Memory and motor skill development
- Vocabulary acquisition
- Improved alertness
- Cognitive resilience
- Creative thinking and problem-solving
Sleep affects mood, which in turn affects social interactions, school performance, and self-esteem.
Some important emotional benefits of sleep in children include:
- Emotional regulation
- Make positive decisions easier
- Better at making and maintaining relationships with others
- Lower risk of depression
- Processing experiences from our day
Factors that prevent children from sleeping
There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of sleep for children. Their environment, health, mood, and more can all interfere with a sleep schedule. If your child is consistently not getting enough sleep, the following factors could be at play.
Interrupted circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are a way of describing the internal clock we all have that is influenced by certain stimuli and or activities. Sunlight, for example, is an indicator of day, and our bodies respond to that. Without routine, children can have a hard time establishing and syncing with their sleep-wake cycle. Interrupting a sleep cycle, especially REM or N-REM sleep, can interrupt brain stimulation in areas that help with learning and memory. All of this is regulated by the central nervous system (see more below).
Sleeping or breathing disorders. Sleep apnea, sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), and other similar conditions make it difficult for children to get enough quality sleep. These conditions can get in the way of REM cycles and even wake your child up during the night.
High stress or anxiety. Children that are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety often deal with trouble sleeping. Some kids are more susceptible to emotional anxiety, especially if they have conditions like diagnosed ADHD or autism. So often the underlying issue of both the anxiety and sleep challenges is the same – a “stuck on” sympathetic, fight-or-flight nervous system.
Too much stimulation. Sometimes, children can’t relax if they’re worked up or feeling wide awake. If kids have stimulants right before bed like caffeine or sugar, they aren’t going to fall asleep very easily. Even the screen from our phones affects our melatonin levels, which in turn affects our sleep. The overuse of technology is a major problem both children and adults face today, interrupting sleep in a big way.
Now you may be wondering how can kids sleep better at night naturally? Let’s dive in!
Natural Sleep Remedies for Kids
Here are tips and natural sleep remedies for kids to try to improve your child’s rest.
- Establish a bedtime routine
Children thrive on structure and clear expectations, so sticking to a bedtime routine may be one of the best sleep remedies for kids. This also helps regulate your child’s sleep-wake cycle, which helps them associate bedtime with sleeping.
Aside from trying to be more consistent, you can also try earlier bedtimes, helping your child self-soothe with stuffed animals or blankets, rewarding positive behavior, and being specific about what your child needs to do to get ready for bed.
- Use white noise machines or apps
White noise can be calming for a lot of children and also prevents them from being woken up by other stimuli outside of their bedroom. This also helps train your child’s brain for when it’s bedtime — they’ll begin associating those noises with sleep.
- Create ideal room conditions
Kids are extra sensitive to stimuli, so creating the right environment for your child to sleep can greatly improve getting them to bed and protect their deep sleep cycles. Generally, your child will need a clean, cool, well-ventilated room with little light. Darker rooms encourage our bodies to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Warm baths & Relaxation
Especially for kids that feel anxious at night or deal with a lot of stress or stimuli, a warm bath can go a long way. It’s soothing and preps them for sleep, and you can also use bath salts that have magnesium, too, which will promote sleep. You can also use magnesium oil wipes as a more on-hand option.
- Avoid screens before bedtime
Screens aren’t good for adults or children when it comes to sleep. Not only are they distracting and keep us up later than we probably should be, but they also the blue light can activate certain parts of our brains that interrupt the sleep cycle. Plus, screens lower the production of melatonin. Try to put screens away at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Chamomile tea & other sleeping foods
Chamomile tea has several benefits for the body and can even strengthen your immune system. It can also act as a safe, mild sedative for your kids to help them fall asleep easier. Though you don’t want to give cherry juice to infants, you can give kids cherry juice, which has natural traces of melatonin. It also helps to find ways to incorporate magnesium into your kid’s diet to help with sleep.
- Stimulation & Activity During the Day
Exercising during the day not only tires your kids out by bedtime but also establishes clear differences between daytime activities (going outside, playing with friends) and nighttime activities (sleeping). This also helps with routine and regulating children’s internal clock. While a lot of stimulation right before bedtime is a little counterproductive, activity during the day will pay off at night, too!
8. Keep Caffeine Away
This may be one of the obvious sleep remedies for kids and adults but be sure to keep caffeine away from your kids, especially near bedtime. You may not be allowing your child to consume caffeinated beverages such as coffee and energy drinks but many parents may not know that chocolate also contains caffeine. It’s best to avoid caffeine altogether but limiting chocolate to the daytime may be beneficial for your child to fall asleep at bedtime.
Tried all that and still struggling?
If you’ve tried all or nearly all of these natural at-home sleep remedies for kids and yet your child still struggles with sleep, it’s time to give Pediatric Chiropractic a try.
A neurologically-focused family chiropractor is trained to make gentle, easy, effective adjustments that reduce stress on the brain and body and activate the side of the nervous system that controls and regulates sleep.
In fact, as you’ll see from the chart below, improved emotional health and sleep are the two biggest changes our chiropractic patients experience with this approach!
You can find your local Pediatric Experience Chiropractor right here on our site directory.
How much sleep should your child be getting?
Remember that recommended sleep guidelines vary depending on the age group, so a 5-year-old may need a different amount of sleep compared to an 11-year-old.
Here’s approximately how much sleep your child should get each night based on their age.
|Age||Hours of Sleep|
|Babies 4-6 months old||12-16 hours (including naps)|
|Toddlers 1-2 years old||11-14 hours (including naps)|
|Children 3-5 years old||10-13 hours (including naps)|
|Children 6-10 years old||10-12 hours|
|Tweens 11-13 years old||9-11 hours|
|Teenagers 14-18 years old||8-10 hours|
Signs that your child needs more sleep
At the end of the day, every kid is different. Communication and creating the right environment for your child is the most important part. As long as you are keeping an eye on their health, it’s okay if your child doesn’t naturally need as much sleep. If you’re concerned about it, these are some signs to watch out for that may indicate a concerning lack of sleep.
- Taking lots of quick cat naps
- Lack of appetite
- It’s hard for them to wake up in the morning
- Needs to be woken up repeatedly
- Craving unhealthy stimulants more than normal, like caffeine or sugar
- Struggling with school or learning new things
- Unfocused or unmotivated
- Increased forgetfulness
- Increased irritability or impulsivity
- Increased stress, which for children often looks like overreacting to something small, restlessness, or fearful behavior
- Won’t play by themselves/exhibit irregular clingy behavior
- Aren’t talking or participating at school or with friends
When to get in touch with a pediatric chiropractor
If colic, night terrors, or bedwetting are constantly interfering with your child’s ability to sleep through the night, it may be best to set up an appointment with your Pediatric Experience Chiropractor. If it’s causing enough interruption to normal life, creating adverse behavior and emotions, or causing anxiety as a parent, it’s definitely worth going through our PX 3-Step Clinical Process right away. Trust your instincts!
Our PX Docs can help you identify patterns, uncover potential roadblocks, and determine the best course moving forward to help your child get the sleep that they need.
Dr. Tony Ebel, DC, CACCP, CCWP
Certified Wellness + Pediatric Chiropractor