I happened to visit the Chicago Parent FB page on Friday night and I saw this question:
Parenting dilemma: Sometimes my kids won’t fall asleep on their own. A friend suggested trying a sleep aid like melatonin or even Benadryl or Tylenol. What would you do?
One thing I have come to realize is that the amount of information on the web is overwhelming and all we seem to talk about today are drugs, drugs and more drugs. This is completely opposite thinking to past times when natural remedies were the norm and drugs were scary to use. The reasons kids don’t fall asleep easily or stay asleep long varies as each child’ biochemistry is unique, but there are many solutions you can try before resorting to the use of over-the-counter medication as a sleep aid.
Here are some simple lifestyle and diet changes to consider when trying to help your child sleep:
- Experts will tell you to avoid TV and other other electronic devices an hour before bedtime. I am here to tell you to avoid these devices completely in the afternoon and limit the total amount of time spent on them per day to no more than two hours, unless medically necessary. This includes the TV, iPad and iPhone. The blue light from these devices stimulates the central nervous system which our bodies associate with daylight.Here is what the American Medical Association says about the blue light: “exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents.” Blue light makes it difficult for the brain to decompress for the evening. Our bodies are still primitive and we require a cool down period before bed. Additionally, falling asleep with a light on decreases the amount of human growth hormone produced while sleeping and suppresses the amount of melatonin our bodies produce at night. These hormones are important for your children and for proper growth.
- Avoid giving your children foods high in sugar,food dyes and fruit juices. One double blind cross-over study linked food color intake in 220 children to extreme irritability, restlessness and sleep disturbance (Rowe, 1988). While another study found that when artificial flavors, colors, chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG and other forms of MSG), preservatives, caffeine, simple sugars and dairy were all eliminated, more than half of the subjects exhibited a marked improvement in behavior, reduced bad breath, reduced night awakenings and an ease in trouble falling asleep. (Kaplan et al, 1989). Additionally, be aware of salicylate levels in your children’s food.Foods high in salicylate stimulate the central nervous system and produces unfavorable behavioral habits. In fact, since going on a low-salicylate diet, my son is now sleeping through the night for the first time since he was born and he falls asleep much easier too. If he eats something that disrupts his system he will wake up before 6am and have a difficult time falling back to sleep.
- Feed your kids foods that are high in tryptophan and magnesium to help their bodies calm down. Foods like turkey, chicken, avocados, bananas, pumpkin seeds are all rich in these nutrients. Magnesium Deficiency is becoming more common in both adults and children so it’s wise to avoid eating a diet that is high in sugars and processed foods which tends to deplete our bodies of magnesium (as does our coffee moms and dads!).
- Keep bath time simple. Consider giving your kids epsom salt baths.This not only helps them absorb magnesium into their bodies through the skin – the best way to get it – it also helps them detoxify themselves of environmental and chemical junk found in foods. Additionally, stay clear of the dyes in commercialized bubble baths as they can seep into the skin and cause further sleep disruption.
- Try essential oils. My kids each have their own essential oil blend that I rub onto their spines and the bottoms of their feet each night. My daughter has used this “night night spray” of Lavender andSerenity since she was 18 months old and loves it. The smell helps her relax. My son’s blend is Roman Chamomile and Frankincense.
- Create a familiar bedtime routine for your kids. Talk to them about their day, read a couple of books or sing songs. It is okay to sit in there for a few minutes while they get sleepy, but let them know that you can’t stay the whole night.I also do a “last call” for the bathroom and drink of water. This is their time to get everything out of their systems. And don’t underestimate the power of a good night kiss and an “I love you.”
Remember, what works for one child, may not work for another. Don’t be afraid to try different things to find something they enjoy and look forward too. Stick with the routine and it will help them go on to build good sleeping habits as adults.