How to Improve Your Child's Sleep Naturally
I believe sleep is the number one thing you can improve for dramatic improvement in your child’s life for better focus, emotional grounding, behavior, and learning that it is the first thing we address in the Empowered Parent Program. If you know someone who’s child is struggling with sleep, please take a second and tag them or share this with them.
Before we jump into all the ways you can promote better sleep, it’s important we understand a little bit about the sleep cycle. I am not going to get to deep into the science here, but a brief over view. Essentially there are 2 basic parts to sleep:
- Falling asleep
- Staying asleep
To fall asleep your body needs to be able to produce Melatonin (which helps you fall asleep) and GABA (which helps your brain & body into a calmer state for sleep). To stay asleep your body needs to have enough vitamin B3 which converts to Niacinimide.
The overall sleep cycles works in the 3 phases:
- Working to Fall asleep
- Light Sleep
- REM Sleep (which stands for Rapid Eye Movement) or deep sleep
The whole sleep cycle runs in approximately 90-120 min intervals. REM sleep is critically for body and brain. It’s believed that during this time your brain is more permeable and it allows the body to flush out toxins around the brain. As well as, REM sleep stimulates the brain regions in learning, memory, and mood.
Now that we have a brief understand of how the sleep cycle works and why it’s important to get enough sleep, we can now address ways to improve sleep.
Sleep is affected by 3 things:
- What You Eat & Drink
- The Nutrients in Your
- What You Do in Life
We are going to tackle food and drink first. There are foods and beverages that you can give to your child before bed that will help promote a better night’s sleep. These items are Almonds, Walnuts, Turkey, Fatty Fish (Salmon), Bananas, Kiwi, or Cottage Cheese.
Beverages that promote sleep are Milk, Tart Cherry Juice, Chamomile Tea, Passion flower Tea.
What is important to note about these items is that they all provide stable blood sugar levels (as a sudden fluctuation can cause wakening and trips to the restroom), they offer protein for sustained hunger satiation and stable blood sugar, or provide natural nutrients your body needs (melatonin, GABA, serotonin, tryptophan, magnesium, etc) for deeper sleep.
Perhaps there is nothing in that list your child will eat. Now what? No need to worry. Supplementation can help, and you may find you need a combination of both. There are many supplements that can help promote sleep. Most of these can be found in a liquid, chewable, or gummy form if your child is unable to swallow pills at this time.
There are potentially a long laundry list of sleep aid supplements. However, I am going to go over my top 7 supplements that we use. As always, consult your doctor before taking these supplements as some of them can interact with certain other medications.
This blog post contains affiliate links where if you purchase an item I receive a small referral fee. It's enough to support this blog and keep the coffee flowing.
- Melatonin – it is a key sleep hormone your body needs to sleep. Melatonin production is triggered by darkness and is a powerful bio time regulator. It strengthens your body’s natural sleep-wake cycles. It promotes shorter times to fall asleep, increases overall sleep times, and promotes better quality of sleep, while being non-habit forming. Start at the lowest dosage and work up to what is needed. Also, don’t be surprised if your child has more vivid dreams. This is a common side effect. (this is what we use)
- Magnesium – is a deep sleep mineral. It helps enable over 300 different enzyme related reactions in the body’s cells. It helps regulate blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body’s stress response, body’s bio clock, melatonin production, maintain healthy levels of GABA, mood stabilization, and improve sleep quality. (Find our favorite here)
- L-theanine - this amino acid elevates levels of GABA, serotonin, dopamine, neurochemicals that regulate emotions, moods, concentration, alertness, and sleep. Can help with appetite, energy, and other cognitive skills. While reducing chemicals in the brain linked to stress and anxiety. I helps enhance relaxation, focus, and creativity. Helps people fall asleep more quickly and improves the quality of sleep.
- GABA – in a amino acid produced in the brain. It facilitates sleep, reduces physical & mental stress, lowers anxiety, and creates a calmness mood. GABA can help relax the mind and body encourages faster asleep times and promotes sleeping through the night. (This is the one we use, but I break it into quarters)
- 5HTP – is a serotonin booster. It is created as a by-product of the amino acid L-tryptophan. It helps the body produce more serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood & sleep-wake cycles). Serotonin is required to make melatonin. It helps shorten the time to fall asleep, increase sleep amounts and potentially reduce stress and anxiety causing sleep terrors and/or nightmares.
- Glycine – a sleep stimulating amino acid. Glycine is considered one of the most important amino acids for the body as it has widespread influence over the body’s structure, systems, and general health. It once again helps the body create serotonin, can improve the symptoms of insomnia, and can help you bounce back to healthy sleep cycle after a period of disrupted sleep. Studies have shown it can reduce the time to fall asleep, and to boost more time REM sleep.
- Vitamin B Complex – is a compilation of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid) B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Niotin), 9 (Folic Acid), B12 (Cobalamin). These are essential in helping your body produce Serotonin and Melatonin, keeping your bio clock in tune, by regulating the amino acid tryptophan. (We opted for this one.)
The last area I want to discuss with you is Lifestyle Changes that can affect sleep. What we do during the day and before bedtime can affect how well we sleep.
Setting up a regular bedtime and wake up time help keep your body’s natural clock in tune for sleep. For kids who need 10+ hours that means going to bed somewhere around 8pm - 9pmand waking up between 6am -7am. Older kids and teens are wired to be up later and sleep in longer. (Which, unfortunately, is counterproductive to High Schools schedules). However, encouraging bedtimes no later than 10pm is a good rule of thumb.
Ensure your child is getting enough physical activity during the day. That means playing outside with friends, school sports, taking a walk after dinner, etc. This is critical since we are seeing a decline in recess, free play for kids, and an increase in sedentary activities, like video games, homework, TV watching, etc.
We have talked about food and drink. But I want to reiterate not to eat too close to bedtime and ensure what your kids are eating are not full of dyes, caffeine (I am looking at you chocolate) and/or high amounts of sugar. These will negatively impact their blood sugar levels and their sleep.
Your body responds to darkness as a signal for sleep, as well as temperature. Rooms should be dark as possible with a comfortable sleep temperature. That also means a brief time before bed and without electronics is very helpful. Even if its only 20 minutes before bed. Also, I encourage you to not allow kids to have a TV or electronics in their rooms. If they do, I encourage you to implement time restrictions on their devices during the overnight hours. Encourage kids to read to unwind. Also start making adjustments in your house; such as turning off lights, turning down the temperature in the house, engage blue light filters after a certain time, and closing blinds/curtains. These adjustments will signal to your child's body that it will soon be time to sleep.
Lastly, use white noise effectively. My daughter prefers to listen to soft piano music, or guitar, or sounds of the ocean. I sleep with a ceiling fan running and the hum of the monitor on. Others use white noise devices. There are specialized music compilations that are designed to put your mind into a slow rhythm to promote sleep.
Well, there you have it. How to Help Your Child improve their sleep naturally through the use of food, beverage, supplements, and lifestyle changes. If you have a suggestion on something you do that helps your child, please post in the comments below or drop a suggested topic you would like me to cover.