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Natural Sleep Remedies for Children

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Regular, sound sleep can make a world of difference for children, whose growing bodies depend on at least 9 hours every night.1Matsuoka M, Matsuishi T, Nagamitsu S, et al. Sleep disturbance has the largest impact on children’s behavior and emotions. Front. Pediatr. 2022;10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2022.1034057 Rest is crucial for brain development, learning, memory, and mood. Older kids and teenagers need plenty of shut-eye too—at least 8 to 10 hours nightly. Yet, nearly 73 percent of students report sleeping less than 8 hours.2Kansagra S. Sleep disorders in adolescents. Pediatrics. 2020;145:S204-209. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-2056I

“Sleep is an essential time for growth, repair, hormone release, brain development, and so much more,” says naturopathic endocrinologist Jaclyn (Chasse) Smeaton. “During periods of high growth, like childhood, sleep is even more important.”

While children sleep, their bodies release hormones vital for physical development. Proper sleep supports muscle growth, tissue repair, and overall well-being. A good night’s rest also boosts young immune systems, steeling against illness and infections.3Zaffanello M, Pietrobelli A, Cavarzere P, Guzzo A, Antoniazzi F. Complex relationship between growth hormone and sleep in children: insights, discrepancies, and implications. Front Endocrinol. (Lausanne). 2024;14:1332114. Published 2024 Jan 24. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2023.1332114

Harmful Health Effects of Lost Sleep

Children who don’t get enough sleep experience detrimental physical, mental, and emotional effects. Among sleepless teens, depression risk runs high.4Raniti MB, Allen NB, Schwartz O, et al. Sleep duration and sleep quality: associations with depressive symptoms across adolescence. Behav Sleep Med. 2017;15(3):198-215. https://doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2015.1120198

Thinking and reasoning skills suffer when young kids sleep fewer than 9 hours per night. According to a 2022 study, troubled sleepers may experience neurocognitive challenges that stretch into early adolescence.5Yan F, Xie W, Wang Z. Effects of sleep duration on neurocognitive development in early adolescents in the USA: a propensity score matched, longitudinal, observational study. Lancet Child Adolesc. Health. 2022;6(10). https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(22)00188-2

Preliminary research also links inadequate childhood sleep with insulin resistance and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.6Dutil C, Chaput J. Inadequate sleep as a contributor to type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Nutr. Diabetes. https://doi.org/10.1038/nutd.2017.19 Several studies show that 5- to 9-year-olds who sleep fewer than 10 hours per night have up to twice the risk of developing obesity compared with kids who sleep more. Adequate sleep helps regulate metabolism and balances hunger hormones, staving off overeating and weight gain.7Bonanno L, Metro D, Pap M, et al. Assessment of sleep and obesity in adults and children. Medicine. 2019;98(46). https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000017642

Why Sleep Eludes Some Kids

Teenager sleeps at desk on open book

Although most kids naturally conk out at the end of a busy day, many struggle with sleep at one time or another. Autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other health conditions can affect all aspects of sleep. However, sleep challenges are typically behavioral and often start with the parents’ approach, says Dr. Smeaton.

“I say that with no judgment, as I am a mom of four and have had my share of learning when it comes to optimizing sleep in my children,” she adds. “Some of the most common contributors include sugar intake and overall nutrition, screen time, lack of daily activities to expend energy—especially outdoor play—bedtime routines, and sleep hygiene.”

Parents play a pivotal role in creating good sleep etiquette with consistent bedtime routines and reduced blue light screen time, and by addressing other factors that foster or discourage sound sleep.8Fadzil A. Factors affecting the quality of sleep in children. Children. 2021;8(2):122. https://doi.org/10.3390/children8020122

“Children also crave connection with caregivers, and bedtime is the beginning of a relatively long period of separation,” notes Dr. Smeaton. “Finding a special time for connection before bed may help kids, especially younger children, get a better night’s sleep.”

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Childhood Insomnia Symptoms

Signs of poor, broken, or insufficient sleep are easily noticeable in children8Fadzil A. Factors affecting the quality of sleep in children. Children. 2021;8(2):122. https://doi.org/10.3390/children8020122:

  • Lethargy or persistent sleepiness
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Poor school performance
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Slow motor response
  • Irritability and fussiness
  • Growth and weight complications (poor or excessive weight gain)
  • Walking or talking during sleep
  • Sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea

Help Kids Fall Asleep Naturally

Parent reads to child under tent with flashlight

Unraveling sleep snags often requires a multipronged approach, beginning with the child’s bedtime routine. Choose consistent nightly activities like reading a book, cuddling with a favorite stuffed animal, soaking in a warm bath, or a gentle massage. Avoid overstimulating kids with electronics or rowdy play before bed.

The Sleep Foundation recommends putting younger children to bed when they’re tired—but not asleep—a practice that encourages kids to fall asleep on their own.

Dr. Smeaton also recommends sleep coaches. “There are a lot of great sleep coaches who can provide customized sleep recommendations for the family,” she says. “Oftentimes, they will come to the home, and many will even stay overnight to coach parents through sleep challenges.”

Herbal and Other Sleep Aids

“When the behavioral pieces are in place, including proper sleep hygiene, and children are still having trouble, I have a few favorite remedies,” says Dr. Smeaton, whose personal go-tos include chamomile and herbal teas such as passionflower9Bruni O, Ferini-Strambi L, Giacomoni E, Pellegrino P. Herbal remedies and their possible effect on the GABAergic system and sleep. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):530. Published 2021 Feb 6. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020530* and California poppy.10Fedurco M, Gregorová J, Šebrlová K, et al. Modulatory effects of Eschscholzia californica alkaloids on recombinant GABAA receptors. Biochem Res Int. 2015;2015:617620. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/617620 Research supports these remedies, but it’s worth noting that most studies have been done with adults rather than children. For more complex cases, Dr. Smeaton strongly recommends working with a naturopathic doctor.

“It may sound strange, but I also believe in the placebo effect,” says Dr. Smeaton. “I’ll have parents give their child vitamin D drops, a multi[vitamin], or something else [they’re] used to taking at night as a ‘sweet dreams medicine.’ While this doesn’t elicit a pharmacological effect, it gives the child reassurance and is especially helpful for younger children.”

Melatonin Supplements

Open bottle of melatonin gummy vitamins

Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep–wake cycle. When internal clocks go awry, melatonin signals to the body that it’s time to sleep.10Esposito S, Laino D, D’Alonzo R, et al. Pediatric sleep disturbances and treatment with melatonin. J. Transl. Med. 2019;17. https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-019-1835-1

Dr. Smeaton occasionally recommends melatonin to parents whose children have difficulty falling asleep. “Melatonin has undergone extensive safety studies in children, even among the most vulnerable neonates,” she explains. “I consider [it] one of the safest options for children.”

Studies show melatonin can help children and adolescents fall asleep faster, sleep longer, enjoy better sleep, and wake feeling refreshed.11Goldman RD, Bongiorno PB, Olcese JM, et al. Myths and evidence regarding melatonin supplementation for occasional sleeplessness in the pediatric population. Pediatric Annals. 2021;50(9):e391-e395. https://doi.org/10.3928/19382359-20210823-01 Melatonin is considered safe and effective for children with primary sleep disorders and neurological conditions such as autism or ADHD.10Esposito S, Laino D, D’Alonzo R, et al. Pediatric sleep disturbances and treatment with melatonin. J. Transl. Med. 2019;17. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-019-1835-1

Dosing is a primary concern for kids taking melatonin. A typical adult dose is 3 mg per 150 pounds. According to Dr. Smeaton, most children need less than 1 mg.

“I think the controversy regarding melatonin is when it’s used as a first-line treatment [before] employing necessary lifestyle changes,” she notes. “When it comes to pediatric sleep, quick-fix medicine should truly be the last option.”

*This study was conducted in animals but effectively conveys the poppy’s mechanism of action.

Footnotes

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform health care in the United States by increasing public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine, with its person-centered principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness overwhelming healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain optimal lifelong health. INM strives to fulfil this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research on this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

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Institute for Natural Medicine Staff

Our dedicated content team of professional staff writers represents decades of experience covering essential natural health topics in an accessible, evidence-based, and engaging way. Guided by a shared passion for holistic well-being, each and every one of our writers strives to empower our readers to take charge of their health.

Supported by a rigorous fact-checking and medical editing process from licensed naturopathic doctors that examines the latest in peer-reviewed research, our team brings their in-depth knowledge of natural health practices into every piece of content we produce. We strive to be the gold standard for evidence-based natural medicine, providing trustworthy information and inspiring narratives to help you live your best health, naturally.

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