Gentle and Natural Approaches for Kids' Sleep
  /   Dr. John Snow

Gentle and Natural Approaches for Kids' Sleep

A good night’s sleep is an important building block for kids' growth, development, and physical and mental health. While it can feel like not getting enough sleep is an adult problem, children can struggle to fall and stay asleep. 

When children are fussy or too excited to sleep, it can feel like a fight at bedtime. But exercise, a healthy diet, and natural products like vitamins and minerals to promote better sleep may be the gentle nudge your kid needs to catch some zzz. 

Let’s explore children’s sleep needs, why sleep is essential, and how to encourage a peaceful night’s sleep using a natural approach. 

Understanding Children's Sleep Needs

As children grow and develop, they need quality sleep to thrive. Kids need more sleep than adults as they are in the process of growing. Babies and children have different sleep needs, and how they sleep differs from adults. 

First, let’s look at how sleep duration can change for different age groups: 

  • 4-12 months - 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • 1-2 years old - 11-14 hours (including naps) 
  • 3-5 years old - 10-13 hours (including naps) 
  • 6-12 years - 9-12 hours 
  • 13-18 years - 8-10 hours 

These recommendations are a general target to follow, but a good and healthy amount of sleep for your child can differ. Kids have different temperaments and developmental needs, which can impact the amount of sleep they need. 

Adults cycle through non-REM and REM sleep. Kids' sleep patterns change as they grow, eventually sleeping less during the day and more at night. At school age, children rarely nap during the day and usually get tired in the evening. 

So, why is sleep so important for children?

Sleep plays an essential role in the development of young brains and growth. Good sleep not only directly impacts attention, alertness, and mood, but it also supports cognitive performance, learning, and memory. 

Research shows that sleep duration is crucial for consolidating memories, attention, and motor skill development in toddlers. 

Parents will know what it’s like to have a child running on not enough sleep. They are grumpy, can have mood swings, and struggle to listen. A lack of sleep can impact children’s behavior, ability to pay attention, and school performance. 

Getting kids to sleep at night can be tough. If you are battling at nighttime, you are not alone. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a quarter of children don’t get enough sleep. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, with up to 25% of children experiencing insomnia symptoms, like difficulty falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. 

Other common sleep challenges that can happen at bedtime include: 

  • Going to bed too late or at irregular times 
  • Feeling anxious
  • Not wanting to sleep alone 
  • Getting out of bed 
  • Waking up at night and not being able to fall asleep alone 
  • Nightmares

Natural Approaches to Promote Children's Sleep

While it can feel like a distant dream for your kid to sleep through the night at times, there are certain things you can introduce to the bedtime routine to help. 

A child that can’t sleep can affect the entire family. By figuring out how to help kids sleep through the night, you can create a relaxing bedtime routine and encourage a calmer night’s sleep. 

Many parents look to natural sleep aids for kids over pharmaceutical ones. The first line of treatment for sleep problems in children typically focuses on creating and adopting healthy sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene isn’t just a consistent bedtime; it’s all the things you do during the day and at night to develop healthy sleep habits. 

Pharmaceutical sleep aids and medications can have side effects, so many parents opt for a more natural approach. Of course, it’s essential to follow your doctor’s advice regarding your child's health. In general, experts strongly recommend lifestyle, behavior, and environment adjustments to improve sleep first.  

According to sleep experts, behavioral therapy can help with most sleep disturbances in children, and medication only be considered when appropriate and prescribed by a pediatrician. 

It’s sad to say that anxiety in kids is on the rise. Stress and anxiety disrupt sleep, whether you’re an adult or a child. By reducing worry, especially before bed, children can learn to regulate their own emotions from a young age. 

Research shows that relaxation techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness can help to calm the nervous system and lower the stress hormone cortisol. One Stanford Medicine study found that children who learned calming techniques like yoga and deep breathing slept longer and better

Nutritional Support for Better Sleep

No one food is the miracle cure for sleep, but what children eat during the day can influence their rest at night. Between restlessness and all the excuses under the sun not to go to sleep, bedtime isn’t always as peaceful as you would like. 

A balanced diet supports a child’s health and provides vitamins and minerals for healthy sleep patterns. Alongside environmental adjustments, limiting screen time, and relaxation techniques, eating the proper nutrients can give your little ones an extra sleep-supporting boost. 

Here are some nutrients that promote healthy sleep: 

  • Vitamin B6 - encourages healthy melatonin production, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. 
  • L-theanine - boosts calming brain chemicals like GABA and promotes relaxation. 
  • Magnesium - helps to relax muscles and calm the nervous system, which is especially important for the pre-bed routine. 
  • Calcium - supports the natural production of melatonin. 

Consider adding these foods to your child’s diet to target these nutrients: 

  • Magnesium - bananas, avocado, whole grains, and spinach 
  • L-theanine - mushrooms 
  • Vitamin B6 - chickpeas, potatoes, papayas, and oranges 
  • Calcium - fortified plant milks, oranges, and almond butter

Despite the best intentions, children can be picky eaters. Getting as many nutrients from a healthy diet is always the first choice, but natural supplements can help give that extra nutritional boost to promote a good night’s sleep. 

If your little ones are struggling to sleep and you need a natural sleep aid for kids, consider what they eat throughout the day and try to hit those vital sleep-boosting nutrients. 

Herbal Remedies and Essential Oils

Do you ever have a calming cup of chamomile tea before bed? Herbs like chamomile and valerian are known for their calming properties. 

Like adults, kids’ bedtime is about creating a calming environment and finding ways to relax and snuggle down for the night. 

Essential oils like lavender and bergamot can also help create a relaxing sleeping environment. Don’t use essential oils directly on the skin. Safe dilutions generally range from 0.5-2.5%, depending on the child’s age. You can add essential oils to carriers like water and lotions or diffuse them into the air. Make sure there is airflow in the room when diffusing essential oils. 

Encouraging Physical Activity

Physical activity is vital for coordination, muscle strength, sleep, and stress reduction. Research shows that longer sleep duration and better quality sleep are associated with higher levels of physical fitness in children. 

Try to incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Here are some exercises for kids to promote sleep: 

  • Walking 
  • Running 
  • Dancing 
  • Yoga 
  • Skipping 
  • Jumping 

Keep in mind to avoid vigorous physical activity too close to bedtime. Sports and activities can burn off energy during the day, but at night, it could have the opposite effect and make it harder for them to fall asleep. 

Creating a Sleep-Conducive Environment

A good bedtime routine can make a huge difference to regular quality sleep. A nighttime routine is consistent and repetitive. It’s the activities you and your kids do before bed to help them relax, calm down, and get ready to sleep. 

Creating a comfortable sleep environment sets the foundation for sleep. Think about lighting, screen time, and noise. Make sure to keep technology and screens out of the bedroom and have a cut-off time of at least one hour before bed. Screen time before bed can make it harder to fall asleep and may delay sleepiness. 

Keep the room cool and dark to help your child get to sleep. Exposure to light before bed can delay the natural release of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. 

Finally, consider adding white noise or soft music to the bedtime routine. White noise may help your child to fall asleep. If you notice that your child falls asleep with household noise around naptime, they may respond well to background music. 


Lifestyle Factors and Kids Sleep

You will notice that many aspects of the bedtime routine focus on relaxation and creating the right environment for sleep. Winding down before bed can create a safe and predictable routine for kids that encourages quality sleep. During this time, consider doing relaxing activities like: 

  • Read a book 
  • Try mindfulness exercises
  • Have a warm bath 

By focusing on managing stress and anxiety in kids, encouraging physical activity during the day, and having a set sleep schedule, your child has the best opportunity to get into a healthy sleep routine. 

When kids get out of a warm bath, their body temperature drops a bit and signals to their bodies that it’s sleepy time. Kids thrive on routine. Many parents rely on bath, book, and bed for a reason. 

Another tip is to limit sugar intake during the day and avoid it entirely close to bedtime. Too much sugar in the diet could impact sleep, causing less restorative rest and resulting in a tired child during the day. 


Cuddling and Bonding Time

Bedtime is an opportunity to spend quality time together. A loving touch and cuddle before bed can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation. This can be a special bonding time that creates a sense of security for kids. 

Great ways to strengthen the bond with your child before bed include: 

  • Make up a bedtime story 
  • Toothbrushing party 
  • Read a story in your silliest voice 
  • Listen to an audiobook together 
  • Try calm coloring 
  • Talk about each other’s day


Sweet Dreams Ahead

A consistent sleep schedule and routine remain important throughout life, especially during the younger years as kids grow. A predictable and safe bedtime routine can positively impact the entire family. 

By tapping into gentle and natural sleep aids for children’s sleep, you can tailor these strategies to your child’s needs and overall well-being. Creating a healthy sleep practice will help your kids now and in the future. Bedtime routines can be soothing, promote sleep, and build the child-parent relationship, which are all essential for growth and development.