If you struggle to get your kids to sleep at night, if they wake in the night or wake up far too early, then be reassured you’re not alone! Sleep trouble isn’t just a problem among adults as kids often have just as much trouble switching off and sleeping sound too……and they usually keep their parents up with them which means no one gets enough sleep! So, I’ve pulled together my top tips for a restful night for the whole family.
1. Bath Time
A relaxing bath is a great start to the bedtime routine. If your little one gets stressed or wired in the evening, adding a couple of cups of Epsom salts to a warm bath may help your little one to chill out. This is because Magnesium may help reduce restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep disorders and depression in the long term. Make sure you explain why you are putting it in, as creating an expectation could help bring the effect forward: “I’m putting this special salt into your bath which will probably make you a bit more sleepy later.”
There are also oral magnesium preparations you can give your child, if you do not have a bath or if the weather is too warm during the summer-time. These come in liquids or as powders in combination with other sleepy herbs and nutrients. You can also get lovely topical magnesium sprays with lavender to rub into their skin after a bath or shower.
2. Calming Food Supplements & Teas
After your kids’ supper and before bath time, why not try out these natural goodies which can help your child’s body relax – they often come incorporated in sleepy blends rather than buying them individually. Opt for powdered form likes Lizzie Loves Be Sleepy for toddles and young kids – you can sprinkle some into milk, yoghurt or fruit puree. For older children and teenagers you can give them blends in capsules like the Unbeelievable Health Bee Rested.
- Montmorency Cherry juice is high in natural melatonin and data suggests that this tart cherry juice (Prunus Cerasus) increases melatonin levels and enhances sleep quality and duration. Sharp tasting, so best taken in kid-friendly blends.
- Theanine is the non-caffeinated part of black and green tea that gives you that lovely relaxing feeling when you drink a cuppa. Taking theanine at night helps to boosts levels of GABA and other calming brain chemicals. It also helps lowers levels of “excitatory” brain chemicals that are associated with anxiety and stress. One study has found that theanine helps with sleep quality and duration in hyperactive children. Again this comes in combination with other sleep aids in both powder and capsule form.
- Barley grass powder works well mixed into a green-based smoothie, is stated as an ideal functional food to help improve sleep. Barley grass powder is also a great source of vitamin E, iron and zinc; so it’s a great one to incorporate into a daily diet. Barley grass is usually found in green “superfood” powders which can be added to smoothies.
- Night Time Tea by Pukka is a dreamy bed of organic oat flower, lavender and lime flower, perfect for winding down. Great for the older child. Once brewed you can add an ice-cube to the water to help cool it down to drinking temperature faster.
3. Omega 3 Support
Omega-3 fatty acids, as we know, are linked to numerous health benefits but now, a new study suggests that having higher levels of omega-3 DHA is associated with better sleep and fewer sleep disturbances among children. So try out a daily Omega 3 supplement to see if it makes a difference with your little one. Dr Alex Richardson, who was one of the authors of this recent study, has also written a fantastic book called ‘They Are What You Feed Them‘ which I can highly recommend. A Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, Dr Richardson is the UK’s leading authority on how nutrition affects behaviour and learning and this book exposes the truth behind the food we are feeding our children and offers simple, practical solutions all parents can use.
4. Screen Time Out
We all know that TV just before bed doesn’t help to calm small minds, however, did you know that it’s advisable to turn all screens off 60-90 minutes before bedtime? This includes not just the TV, but the computer, games, iPad and any other devices with screens. Study results show that they all promote wakefulness through both stimulating on-screen content as well as the light emitted from them which mimics daylight and tricks your child’s brain into thinking it needs to stay awake. Some devices with Apple True Tone or Night Shift are able to adjust their colour temperature to match ambient light or the time of day, and this can help too. Entertain your kids by reading them stories or find an audiobook or gentle music for them to listen to before bedtime.
5. Avoid the Highs
It is well known that caffeine (including chocolate) is a stimulant and not very good for children anyway, but it’s key that we also avoid giving kids sugar in the evening as well. If you do allow your child the occasional soft drink, make sure that they don’t have any drinks containing sugar and caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime.
Snacks are perfectly acceptable before bedtime as long as they’re healthy and not very filling. If your child asks for food or drink before bedtime, offer them a glass of warm milk or a light healthy snack such as fruit with nut butter or crackers with houmous.
6. Create a Calming Environment
Trying to encourage your kids to wind down before bedtime can be pretty stressful in itself! So try to reduce stress levels well before bedtime. Cortisol, known as the ‘stress hormone’ plays a key role in sleep. Your child’s body won’t be able to slow down and go to sleep if cortisol levels are high. So (as much as is possible!) keep activities before bedtime calm – like reading a book, keep the lights dim and the environment quiet. This can really help avoid excess levels of cortisol in your child’s system, thereby helping them to wind down.
If despite your best efforts, your child continues to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or has persistent nightmares or night terrors, they might have a genuine sleep disorder. The most frequent of sleep disorders in children are repeated and prolonged periods being awake and we see kids that keep their parents up for hours every single night. Treatment of insomniac children rests on behavioural techniques as well as resetting the circadian rhythm – there a number of ways to understand and observe the sleep-wake rhythm of your child and teach them to acquire regular sleeping habits, so do speak with a paediatrician if you are concerned or if this is persistent.
We completely understand that bedtime can become a battle when little bodies resist the urge to snuggle down to bed, but hopefully, here we’ve given you some tips to try out with your troops. Best of luck in your quest for a rested family bedtime, and remember not to reward a restless child with too much attention if they get out of bed!
This has been updated from a post originally published Apr 4, 2018.