Sleep is essential to growth and recovery. Sleep helps the body and mind thrive but for many of us, sleep can be a bit of a struggle. for parents who have kids that struggle to sleep, it can leave them feeling worn down and even give them feelings of failure.
The good news is that sleep issues in children is a lot more normal than most people realize and there are things you can do to help.
Why do kids struggle to sleep?
Children often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep for a variety of reasons. Sleep disorders in children are more prevalent than most people realize. The tendency for kids to stay up at night is due to their excess energy.
Anxiety or stress: Children may have difficulty sleeping due to anxiety or stress related to school, social situations, or other life events.
Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as asthma, allergies, or ADHD, can affect a child’s sleep.
Sleep disorders: Children may have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, that makes it difficult for them to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Unhealthy sleep habits: Children may have unhealthy sleep habits, such as staying up late, watching TV or using electronic devices before bed, or consuming too much caffeine.
An irregular sleep schedule: Children may have difficulty sleeping if their sleep schedule is irregular, or if they don’t have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
Pain or discomfort: Children may have trouble sleeping if they are experiencing pain or discomfort from an injury, illness, or other condition.
Poor sleep environment: Children may have trouble sleeping if their bedroom is too bright, too hot or too cold, or too noisy.
Nutritional factors: Poor diet and lack of physical activities can cause difficulty sleeping.
Environmental factors: Exposure to toxins and other environmental factors, such as pollution, can also contribute to sleep problems in children.
Tricks to help your kids sleep
If your child has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night, there are a few things you can do to make it easier for your child.
You can make life just a little bit easier by helping your child work off extra energy or giving them healthy coping mechanisms for stress.
Giving your child a bedtime routine can help ease their transition to sleep, just as it does for babies and toddlers. Routines are healthy for everyone, regardless of their age, since they make the body and brain aware of what’s expected to happen.
Start by building a simple routine before bed that over time will help to tell your child’s mind that it is time to shut down for the night and let your child sleep.
Make bedtime a special time
Make bedtime a special time for your child. Have a special story or a song that you read or sing together every night. This will help create positive associations with bedtime and make it something your child looks forward to.
Bedtime is a great time to create a cuddling routine with your child to meet their emotional needs. Grab a book and snuggle up. This can be a great part of a healthy sleep routine.
Keep your child active throughout the day.
Burning off that energy will help them sleep better. You need to keep your child’s body and their brain active during the day so that they are tired enough to sleep at night.
While most people know that keeping their kids physically active can help them sleep, they are surprised to learn that if their minds have been kept busy, their kids can sleep even better.
My oldest has ADHD like her father and I learned from a young age that she does best if her mind and body are challenged every single day.
Give essential oils a try.
You can help your child sleep better at night by setting up a diffuser in his or her room that diffuses kid-safe essential oils like lavender and mandarin that have been proven to help reduce stress.
The best time to do this is while your child is going through their bedtime routine. I like to do a mix of 3 drops of lavender essential oil and 2 drops of mandarin essential oil to create a stress and sleep blend that smells like fruity cereal.
I diffuse it in a couple of places through the house while we get ready for the night and it benefits the adults as well as the children.
Meditation is something everyone should learn. Before bed, meditation helps calm the mind so it’s easier to fall asleep. It is a great exercise you can do with your child to help you both cope with stress better and even to strengthen your relationship.
We have made meditation a major part of our day for it’s many benefits.
Don’t let your child consume artificial food dyes.
Many people are unaware of the health hazards of artificial dyes. Some countries require products that contain them to be labeled with a warning that they can cause hyperactivity in children.
By switching to a cleaner diet, you can make it easier for your child to fall asleep at night. Cutting out food dyes is easier than you think. You can even still let your kids have fun colorful foods by looking for safer brands. My favorite grocery store Aldi offers a wide variety of dye-free foods.
Reduce screen time.
The blue light from screen devices has been proven to make it harder for the brain to calm down and sleep at night. As part of your child’s bedtime routine, avoid screens a few hours before bedtime to relieve the effects of blue light on the brain and eyes.
Consider turning on the blue light or bedtime filter on your child’s device, or getting your child some blue light-blocking glasses, if your child spends a lot of time on their devices during the day.
After getting blue light filtering glasses for my work on the computer I have been getting much more sleep. Zenni has some great deals if you need blue light blockers in a prescription lens. (Get $5 off here.)
Try a protein-rich snack before bed.
Kids are growing fast and are hungry all the time. Providing your child with a snack before bed can help them to fall asleep more easily and to sleep longer at night.
Choose a snack that includes both fiber and protein for the best results. We like to do fruit and cheese or fruit and peanut butter for a bedtime snack.
Avoid nighttime drinks
Stop your child from drinking water and other beverages before bedtime. Young children with small bladders should be especially careful about this. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, they may find it difficult to fall asleep again.
To reduce this problem, reduce how much your child drinks at night and encourage them to drink more in the morning so they can use the bathroom as needed without interrupting their sleep. This is a common trick used to help with nighttime potty training but it can help with sleep issues as well.
Give melatonin a try.
While you shouldn’t use melatonin for longer than one or two nights to help your child sleep, it can be helpful when you need to put them back on a schedule. Commercial products should be avoided in the long run as they interfere with the body’s ability to produce this hormone on its own.
You can support your child’s natural melatonin production by giving him or her a handful of cherries, a fruit that is naturally high in melatonin. A handful of cherries and almonds make for a great bedtime snack for children that struggle to sleep.
Keep your child warm and cozy during the night
If your child gets cold at night they are more likely to wake up. These simple tips to keep your child warm at night will help make it easier to soothe them into a restful night’s sleep even in the harsh cold winters.
As children grow, encourage them to take control of their own bedtime routine by setting a reminder for them or giving them a set of activities to do before bed. This will make them feel responsible for getting to bed on time and will help them learn time management skills.
This will help them develop the ability to sleep on their own after a while helping to make your life a bit easier.
Talk to your child’s doctor.
You may want to talk to your doctor about your child’s sleep problems if you’ve tried to help him sleep for quite some time, with great and constant effort, and you still haven’t been able to do so. Your child’s sleep problems should be discussed with a doctor.
Your child’s healthcare provider may be able to suggest options that can help them sleep or the lack of sleep may signal a deeper issue that should be addressed.