Healthy sleep habits in children are essential to their physical, mental, and emotional development. Children will show an improved mood, increased IQ, better grades, and seem all around happier with as little as 20 more minutes sleep per night. Establishing a bedtime routine helps parents and children get the extra rest they need. But as any parent knows, getting children to sleep in a timely manner for sufficient hours can seem impossible.

Children’s sleep needs are dictated primarily by their age, and children typically require less sleep as they age. Here are recommendations from the pediatrician-led Nemours Center for Children’s Health:

0-4 months: 14-16 hrs. in a 24 hr. cycle

4-12 months: 14-15 hrs., including 2-3 naps for 1-2 hrs. each

1-3 years: 12-14 hrs., including 1 nap for 1-2 hrs.

3-6 years: 10-12 hrs.

7-12 years: 10-11 hrs.

12-18 years: 8-9 hrs.

The most important tool to assist children to get to – and stay – asleep for adequate time is routine. The routine begins at dinner and continues up until the time the child is asleep. A routine will include all the same activities, at the same time, and in the same order each night. For example, dinner at 5:30pm, bath at 6:30pm, teeth brushing and pajamas after bath, in bed at 7:30pm, storytime together in bed, and lights out by 7:45pm. Routine establishes expected behaviors for both the parent and the child, reduces anxiety by anticipating what activity follows, and creates a diurnal sleep rhythm. It can take time for the child to respond to the routine in a positive way but with time (2-3 weeks), the child will begin to fight sleep less often and sleep longer hours with less interruption.

In addition to a routine, herbs and essential oils, and nutrition can help calm children into restful sleep. Children’s herbal remedies that include oat straw (avena sativa), passion flower, chamomile, lemon balm (melissa officinalis), and/or valerian root induce relaxation and deeper sleep. A child-appropriate herbal remedy can be taken prior to bed for beneficial effects. Using a lavender essential oil-infused massage oil on your child’s chest, a diluted lavender essential oil spray on the pillow and/or lavender infused children’s bath soap can also help relaxation.

Limit daily fruit juice consumption, stop fruit/fruit juice all together by 3pm, and eliminate all added sugar products from the diet. Ensuring children eat at routine times throughout the day and creating balanced meals of protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (i.e., not just buttered noodles) will keep children asleep longer and deeper. A routine is the most helpful aspect of good sleep, but herbal aids and diet can be very useful to help a child achieve relaxation.

Sleep routines and bedtime are one of the most frustrating habits for parents to create. Most parents will say that their children simply will not go to sleep and doubt the positive benefits of a routine for their child. However, the children that seem most resistant to routine are the children that typically benefit the most and, unfortunately, may take the longest to respond to the routine. In these cases, aids such as calming herbal remedies are nearly essential.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness, and pre-conception health. She can be reached at Optimal Health Center (760) 568.2598.

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