If your child struggles to get to or stay asleep, it’s completely normal to worry. But, instead of turning to sleep medicines, many parents look for natural sleep remedies that promote healthy sleep.
Natural sleep remedies are a drug-free alternative to get your kids on the path to better sleep. Think daily exercise, a consistent bedtime routine, and proper nutrition to support the body’s natural sleep cycle. By taking a holistic approach to sleep, natural remedies include fewer side effects and look at the problem as a whole instead of putting a bandaid on one issue.
So, what’s the difference between natural sleep remedies vs pharmaceutical sleep medications for kids, and where do you even start?
Let’s dive into the most up-to-date information so you can have everything you need to make an informed decision for your family.
Pharmaceutical Sleep Medications for Kids
Typically, pharmaceutical sleep medication for kids is not the first line of treatment for children experiencing sleep problems. When it comes to addressing sleep issues in children, experts say that behavioral interventions are part of the basics of treatment. However, there are cases where medication may be appropriate or necessary.
Whenever possible, the use of pharmaceutical medication should be as short as possible, and your pediatrician will most likely put a time limit on this. In some children, such as those with autism spectrum disorders and ADHD, medication may be necessary for longer periods.
There are several medications (both over-the-counter aids and prescription drugs) that your child’s doctor may use, depending on their needs and medical history. Here are a handful of medications a doctor may prescribe for sleep problems in kids:
- Melatonin receptor agonists
- Hypnotic sleep aids (commonly known as sleeping pills)
The goal of pharmaceutical sleep medications is to improve sleep and reduce sleep problems to decrease the effects of poor sleep on growing bodies.
It’s important to mention that while a doctor may recommend the above medications and over-the-counter aids, many drugs are not FDA-approved for adolescents and children. These medications are often prescribed off-label, meaning a physician prescribes a medication used to treat a different condition than what you have.
Like any medication, you need to understand the safety profile, potential side effects, and the long-term impact it can have on your child.
Following your doctor’s advice on dosage and monitoring for potential side effects is essential.
Several potential side effects come with certain medications and over-the-counter sleep aids, including:
- Drug tolerance - over time, the tolerance to medication can build, requiring more amount to get the same effect
- Drug dependence - developing a reliance on medication to get to sleep.
- Side effects - common side effects of prescription medication can include drowsiness, stomach problems, headache, and dizziness.
- Interactions - potential adverse interactions with other medications.
- Not addressing the root cause - medication typically doesn’t address the root of the problem.
- Withdrawal - symptoms that occur coming off a medication.
While melatonin is technically a supplement, there are concerns over its safety. Because it’s a supplement, it’s not heavily regulated as something that is FDA-approved. Side effects of taking it include drowsiness, bedwetting, and headaches.
Ultimately, there needs to be more conclusive studies on the long-term effects of melatonin use in children. Proper medical supervision is essential when considering any type of sleep aid or medication, whether it’s an over-the-counter drug, a dietary supplement like melatonin, or prescribed by your physician.
Effectiveness of Natural Sleep Remedies on Kids
When kids don’t get enough sleep, everyone in the family feels it.
Natural sleep remedies for kids are medicine-free strategies to improve sleep quality and promote a restful night’s sleep.
Essentially, natural sleep remedies are all the things you can do during the day and leading up to bedtime to support healthy sleep patterns, such as:
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Try soothing herbal teas
- Use natural sleep aids
- Create a sleep-conducive environment
- Have a screen cut-off time
- Turn down the lights
- Exercise during the day
- Avoid sugar too close to bed
- Soak in a warm bath
- Practice mindfulness to de-stress
Research shows that a language-based bedtime routine (singing, reading, storytelling) may have a lasting benefit on sleep duration. Kids are more likely to sleep earlier, stay asleep longer, and wake up less at night.
Daily routines generally lead to a predictable and safe environment for kids. A consistent bedtime routine is especially beneficial for improving all aspects of sleep for toddlers and infants and maternal mood.
Creating a sleep-inducing environment and limiting screen time before bed is crucial for setting kids up for a good night’s sleep. A number of studies find that screen time in children and adolescents is associated with delayed bedtime and a shorter total sleep time.
Mechanisms of Action
A mechanism is the specific way that natural remedies or pharmaceutical medications affect the body to promote sleep and encourage a restful night. The two work very differently, and it’s important to understand how they impact the body.
Natural Remedies Mechanism:
Natural remedies are drug-free or non-pharmaceutical methods to promote sleep in children.
For example, creating a relaxing and calming bedtime routine is often at the top of the list of natural sleep remedies. By performing a set of repeatable activities before bed, you’re preparing your child for bed. The predictability of a nighttime routine can create a sense of security and comfort. All of these things come together to help kids wind down and relax to have a more peaceful night's sleep.
What you do before bed isn’t the only key element of sleep for children. Daily exercise or incorporating natural sleep vitamins alongside a healthy diet can also benefit sleep. Regular exercise helps kids burn energy but also relieves stress, which could stand in the way of a restful night. Proper diet and nutrition help provide kids with all the vitamins and minerals they need to support healthy sleeping patterns.
Whatever strategy you choose, natural sleep remedies share a similar goal of creating a calming environment and setting the body and mind up for sleep.
Pharmaceutical Medications Mechanism:
Pharmaceutical medications tend to act directly on the body’s physiological processes. So, they include active compounds that impact sleep patterns. They do this by targeting certain brain receptors or neurotransmitters crucial for sleep.
Because of the way pharmaceuticals work in the body, you can typically see the effects much sooner. At the same time, because these medications contain active compounds, there may be side effects. Medications are often a last resort or necessary because a child has additional needs.
Benefits of Natural Remedies for Children
By opting for natural remedies, you don’t have to rely on pharmaceutical medications or risk potentially nasty side effects. Developing and fostering healthy sleep habits is vital for children.
By finding natural ways to fuel the body with the right nutrients, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality, children can have all the energy they need for the day.
Avoiding large meals, vigorous exercise, and sugar before bed are simple steps to start to nail down the sleep routine. While long nights with a fussy child can be frustrating and emotionally challenging at times, raising a child with healthy sleep habits who feels safe and secure in their routine is a huge bonus.
Addressing Specific Sleep Issues
Good sleep helps children learn, grow, concentrate, and manage their emotions. At any age, a bedtime routine can help set you up for a peaceful night’s sleep. Yet, sleep is something many have a problem with, children and adults alike.
Common sleep issues in kids include:
- Sleep terrors and nightmares
- Bedtime resistance
- Feeling hungry or thirsty before bed
Children with anxiety or stress at bedtime can struggle to sleep and reappear multiple times throughout the night for a reassuring cuddle. By incorporating calming activities before bed or taking time to work through the worry, you can create a routine to support your child naturally falling asleep. In this case, natural remedies like a bedtime routine focus on helping children to manage and cope with their stress, work through it, and feel secure.
In some cases, a physician may prescribe pharmaceutical medications for children and adolescents for as short a time as possible to limit reliance on medication.
Tailoring Solutions to Individual Needs
Every child is different and has their own unique needs, preferences, and medical history. Choosing the best approach to help your child sleep is a conversation to have with your family and pediatrician.
If you have a child with major sleep problems and are struggling, that conversation will look different from having a child who resists bedtime occasionally. Although both will likely benefit from a routine, one may need additional help. That’s where speaking to your doctor is crucial for tailoring the sleep strategy to a child's individual needs.
Expert Opinions and Research
A study by a University of Manchester psychologist, Dr George Kitsaras, defined a good bedtime routine. The six key areas include:
- Brushing teeth
- Time consistency
- Reading a book
- Avoiding food/drinks
- Avoiding electronics
- Calming activities
“Bedtime routines are important family activities and have important implications on children’s wellbeing, development and health,” he said.
From creating a sleep-inducing environment and nighttime routine to natural supplements, there are several approaches you can try without the junk and excess sugar.
“Hiya gives my patients the nutrients they need without the sugary junk.” - Dr. Monica Madan, Beverly Hills Pediatric Specialist.
Parental Considerations and Decision-making
Every child is different, so it is crucial for you to do what you feel is right. If your child falls asleep fast to background noise, including that in the nighttime routine makes sense. But if it wakes them up, then a different approach would be better.
When choosing sleep remedies for your kids, consider the following:
- Any ongoing medication or treatment
Navigating the Path Between Natural Sleep Remedies and Pharmaceuticals for Kids
When considering natural sleep remedies and pharmaceutical options for kids, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. Some medications can interact with supplements and over-the-counter drugs, so it’s vital that your doctor has a complete picture of your child’s health and regime before they can make any recommendations.
Natural sleep remedies focus on creating a calming environment and giving your child the best chance of naturally drifting off to the land of nod. While it can take a little longer for a holistic approach to improve sleep in kids, you can help foster good sleep hygiene and healthy habits that last a lifetime.