I’m a huge proponent of getting enough sleep despite how difficult that is in our modern lives. But sometimes it’s outside forces that are causing us or our kids to have trouble going to sleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep. Luckily there are many natural ways to help kids sleep that are simple to implement.
While there’s no magic bullet for sleep issues, a few lifestyle and diet changes across the board can really make a difference!
Sleep Is Crucial for Kids
Sleep is a hormone-dependent process and is easily disrupted by our modern lives. Unhealthy food, artificial light, and other factors can cause hormonal disruptions that then affect sleep. Interestingly, not getting enough sleep can cause hormones to get out of balance and cause more sleeplessness. If you’re a parent of a baby or toddler, you know this well!
Sleep is incredibly important for us all, but for kids who are still growing, sleep is even more important:
- Growth hormone is secreted during deep sleep primarily. This is why babies and kids need more sleep than adults and why they need less as their growth slows.
- Just like adults, kids need sleep to regulate stress hormones which keep their bodies healthy, including at a healthy weight.
- During sleep, the body produces cytokines to help fight infections. It’s well known that lack of sleep can bring on a cold, while extra sleep is often enough to kick one.
- Lack of sleep affects kids’ (and adults’) cognitive function. A 2011 review found that the quality, quantity, and consistency of sleep greatly affected kids’ performance in school. Things that were affected include memory, attention span, and reasoning, among other cognitive functions.
Because sleep disturbance is usually a response to lifestyle and environmental factors, optimizing those are the best way to get kids back on track.
Natural Ways to Help Kids Sleep
There are many natural remedies for helping kids get the important sleep they need. These remedies all focus on getting to the root of the sleep problem so that your child will develop a healthy sleep routine and everyone (including Mom and Dad) can get the rest they need!
Improve Sleep Environment
Sometimes all kids need for better sleep is a better sleep environment. Experts say you can’t force a child to sleep but you can provide an environment that is conducive to it.
There are many environmental factors that can affect sleep so you’ll have to experiment to see what works best. The good thing is, almost all environmental factors are easily fixed!
- Remove ALL artificial light. This includes street lights, electronics, clocks, and night lights too! I use blackout curtains to block artificial light from outside and don’t give my kids night lights. If your kids insist on a night light, turn it off when they are sleeping.
- Reduce temperature. The temperature of the room should at least be below 70 degrees. However, some people sleep better when it’s closer to 60 degrees. For kids, it makes sense to keep the temperature around 65 because they can easily get warm with a single thick blanket and you won’t have to deal with night time waking because of being cold (kids are notorious for kicking blankets off the bed!). Consider reducing the room temp earlier in the evening and let the cooling room signal to the kids that it’s time to be under bedding to be at the right temperature.
- White Noise! Try a noise machine or our kids’ favorite, Gregorian Chant. White noise can help drown out other noises (including thoughts!) and soothe kids to sleep.
- Sleep Spray. You can mix a batch of room freshener and use calming oils like lavender. This can help kids settle down for sleep. Adding a sleep spray to your nightly routine can also help signal to kids that’s it’s almost time for sleep.
- Reduce EMFs. Still not getting sleep? Try an earthing sheet. Sleeping on an earthing sheet is thought to help reduce EMFs which can disturb sleep. You may also want to measure EMFs in the room.
- Try a weighted blanket. Many parents report their children sleep better under a weighted blanket. This is especially great for any child with sensory processing or hyperactivity struggles. Try one and see if it does the trick.
- Switch to natural bedding. A child sensitive to toxins or with a heightened allergic response to dust mites might experience unpleasant symptoms that keep them away like congestion, runny nose, swollen tonsils, and so on. This step can be costly, but try switching out just one item at a time as the budget allows or taking one of these budget-friendly measures.
Making some of these adjustments can have a huge impact on your child’s sleep (and maybe your own!).
Improve Sleep Routine
A good bedtime routine is important for most kids, but for those with sleep resistance, it’s essential! Here are some tips for a routine that helps your kids get to sleep quickly.
- Slowly darken the house. Build into your routine a time when the lights in the house are strategically turned off. For example, if you do a bedtime snack, leave only the dining room light on and turn off the kitchen light. This can help signal to little ones that it’s time to settle down.
- Offer a high-fat, high protein snack. Ideally, this snack would happen an hour or so before bed to allow for digestion, but some kids insist they are hungry if they don’t eat right before bedtime. Try to avoid high sugar snacks as they can send blood sugar out of balance.
- Stop screens at least 2 hours before bedtime. If a child must use a screen (like for homework) install an app like F.lux or have them use blue light blocking glasses.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends! A consistent sleep schedule is important for keeping hormones associated with sleep in balance. Change bedtime around until you find the right time that helps kids get the most rest. For some families, this is an early bedtime (think 6 pm!) and for others, it can be later. However, most kids do best when they are in bed by 8 or 9 pm.
Every child is different and you may find that some kids do better with a slightly longer bedtime routine, while others do best with a shorter routine. The important thing is to create a routine that signals to your child that it’s bedtime.
Daytime Tips for Better Sleep
Optimizing for good sleep isn’t just a nighttime job. Here are some tips for helping improve sleep while kids are still awake:
- Make sure your kids get at least 30 minutes of outside time every day. More is always better if possible. Getting fresh air, sunshine (gotta love vitamin D!) and exercise, is important for keeping the body healthy and ready for quality sleep. We’ve even found an extended camping trip as a family helps restoring natural sleep patterns (as long as you’re not staying up past dark with lights, that is!).
- Offer water regularly. In our family, we drink mostly water and it helps with good quality sleep. But I also try to discourage water too close to bedtime so the kids don’t need to wake up to use the bathroom (and potentially have trouble falling back to sleep).
- Add magnesium flakes to their bath. Many people are deficient in magnesium. This deficiency can disrupt sleep and cause other issues. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, so magnesium flakes in the bath are best, but an oral magnesium supplement may help too.
Foods for Better Sleep
A healthy diet is one of the biggest factors for overall health and that includes optimizing the body for good sleep! Here are some of the best foods to feed your little ones for better sleep:
- Healthy Fats: Coconut oil, organic and pasture-raised meats, eggs, avocado, and butter are excellent sources of healthy fat. They help provide the body with the necessary building blocks to synthesize sleep hormones.
- High Antioxidant Food: Offer lots of vegetables, high nutrient fruits, and herbal teas. Antioxidants from these foods are essential for hormone production and to rid the body of toxins.
- Quality Proteins: We know that it’s best to stop eating at least a few hours before bedtime (preferably by dark), but kids can’t always go that long without eating. Instead, focus on offering healthy protein at bedtime (and healthy fat). These foods will help keep kids full and balance their blood sugar. Quality protein at other times of day is important too. Also, consider how much organ meats or gelatin your child is eating. If they aren’t eating these proteins consider offering gelatin-rich snacks.
- Tart Cherry Juice Gummies: This recipe is a compilation of all of my favorite sleep remedies and is a real food-based sleep helper. Tart cherry juice supports healthy melatonin production (rather than supplementing the body with it) and helps improve sleep in human studies.
Knowing what foods to feed your child is helpful, but there are some foods you should avoid as well.
- Sugar: Eating too much sugar or carbohydrates isn’t good for anyone at any time, but it’s especially problematic just before bedtime. This is because sugar and carbohydrates can cause a blood sugar spike and crash that will lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Grains and Other Allergens: More and more kids are having intolerances to grains and other foods. Eating foods that the body is intolerant to can cause stress in the body. This stress can then interfere with hormone production and sleep. An elimination diet can help determine if your child has food intolerances that may be causing sleep issues.
- Vegetable Oils: No one should ever eat vegetable oils, but in the amount most Americans eat them, they can easily disrupt hormone production. As mentioned earlier, fat is essential for hormone production. Giving the body the wrong kind of fats (or the wrong amounts) can have an impact on sleep hormone production.
Choosing healthier foods that support good sleep for your little ones can make a huge difference in quality and quantity of sleep!
Natural Remedies for Trouble Sleepers
Every parent has encountered a child with trouble sleeping at one time or another. These natural ways to help kids sleep target the underlying cause of sleep issues and support kids in getting enough good quality sleep every day.
However, if these tips don’t work and your child is still not getting enough sleep, it’s always good to consult your child’s doctor.
Do your kids have trouble sleeping? What has helped them?
Discussion (15 Comments)
Hi Katie I’m a little bit confused because in this article you put the white noise is good for kids and another article you wrote you put that you recommended a app instead of white noise, the app that you recommended doesn’t even work, Could you please provide some clarification on that? Thank you
Do you know which article and app it was? It may have been an older post and the app is no longer available.
Can you recommend a good oral magnesium for kids? Mine are 4 and 10. I know there are several different types of magnesium– which is best for sleep?
Are there any other types of magnesium you recommend for kids like lotions or supplements? I like the bath flakes idea but my kids don’t take a bath every night so I’d like to use something else for other nights.
There are some great magnesium sprays and lotions that work on kids.
Here’s a magnesium body butter recipe https://comments.wellnessmama.com/beauty/magnesium-body-butter/
Thank you for this generous article! I’m curious if you have any thoughts/recommendations on stories to help sleep. We do a meditation talk to sleep, but I he really wants a story. Everything I find for free has music and makes him excited. I’m wondering if you have come across stories for sleep that may not start out with a story, but slows down throughout the story to calm the kid down. I will be trying the tart gummy bears!
Hello, I am going to be taking a 3 hour flight with a 1,3 and 5 year old. My friends keep telling me to use benadryl but I REALLY don’t want to. I am trying to find something on melatonin for them on the flight. Do you know anything about dosing them? I know you are not a dr. and can’t give medical advice, I’m just asking for your opinion. Thank you for your time.
I’d definitely ask a doctor to be sure. I personally stick to melatonin only on international flights when they are changing a lot of time zones. I’ve definitely read that it isn’t good to give melatonin during the day if you aren’t changing a lot of time zones because it can mess up circadian rhythm. For international flights, we take melatonin at the time it would be bedtime in the new timezone. for instance, if we took off mid-afternoon from the US but were going to Europe (7 hours ahead), we would take it around bedtime in Europe so that when we land the next morning (8 am Europe time) we’ve slept and it doesn’t feel as much like 1 am in the timezone we left from.
What are your thoughts about melatonin for kids. My 9 year old daughter struggles with going to sleep. She starts to stress out when she can’t sleep and gets herself worked up.
I’m personally hesitant to use melatonin, even for myself, unless I’m using it to fight jet lag or some other unnatural sleep situation. We stick to more gentle remedies with our kids, including chamomile and reishi. I’m also testing a new device called the Apollo that seems to really help.
Thanks for the great tips! Any thoughts for when children wake up due to a nightmare or dream?
What would be an example of a good high protein, high fat bedtime snack before bedtime?
Nuts and seeds! Even eggs if you want to whip some up.
From an airway perspective, children who appear to have trouble sleeping or resist going to bed may actually be suffering from breathing disordered sleep. This is a serious, multi-factorial issue caused by over-breathing with a flaccid tongue/throat/soft palate and/or enlarged tonsils and underdeveloped airway. It is an issue that is present day and night, and can manifest itself as sleep apnea, ADHD, asthma, bed-wetting, restless or resistant sleep and snoring or drooling. The body knows that to sleep with this issue means not being able to breathe, so it tries its best to keep us awake.