The sun is staying up a little later, and if your kids are anything like mine- that also means they’re staying up a little later. Our longer days here can set the stage for some very solid nighttime struggles over spring and summer. Kids still need a lot of sleep, despite their protests.
Here’s the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommendations for kids by age:
Infants: 4-12 months should sleep 12-16 hours/24 hours on a regular basis. Babies under 4 months aren’t included here because everyone agrees that 4th trimester time is a total crapshoot and no one, including the babies, agree on appropriate sleep during this time.
Toddlers: 1-2 year old should sleep 11-14 hours/24 hours on a regular basis
Preschoolers: 3-5 year olds should sleep 10-13 hours/24 hours on a regular basis
Children: 6-12 year olds should sleep 9-12 hours/24 hours on a regular basis
Teens (and also realistically adults): from 13+ should sleep 8-10 hours/24 hours on a regular basis
If they don’t get enough sleep, they’re likely to have attention, behavior, and learning problems right along with increased risk of accidents and injuries, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression (and in teens, self harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts). This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since that’s also pretty much what happens to sleep deprived grown ups.
We could get into the mechanism of action for these things (and actually, there’s a lot more research and associated conditions than we’ve listed), but today is all practical because Bedtime is Coming.
Here are some things you can try to help your household get a bit more sleep:
Black Out Curtains
While in winter your kids may have been complaining that it’s too dark outside, they’re about to start talking about how they can’t sleep because the “sun is still awake!” Easy solution? Put the sun to bed. Black out curtains can be critical for those little songbirds who wake at sunrise as well. My partner worked nights for a bit more than a decade, and black out curtains made day sleep easier for him as well. There’s any number of variations on this, and some kids sleep fine in the light, but for my kids we don’t only have black out curtains, they have sleeping eye masks as well. They’re old enough that it’s not a strangulation risk, so be careful with your tinies. This solves a ton of our summertime woes, and you can often get a set off of your local buy nothing group or from a thrift shop just to try out the concept.
Literally everyone should learn some sort of sleep routine. It’s important for grownups, and extra important for kids. Especially if you’ve got an anxious, ADHD, sensory processing, or ASD kid. Most of those kids are going to have sleep disturbances to begin with, and many children have to be taught how to transfer a sleep cycle. I’m not going to go into sleep management methods here- you can talk to my go-to sleep coach, Marie Eve Gagnon for that.
(as an aside, this office has done all of the methods. I think that it’s useful to keep in mind that for almost every set of multiples, those twins/triplets/etc will have different sleep needs and they all get to adapt to whatever works for the hardest kid to get to sleep. Despite this, we don’t see studies on how the twin with the non preferred sleep learning schedule was ruined for life because y’know, they pretty much weren’t. ) Many people do the bath, teethbrushing, book, bed routine. You’ll figure out what works for your family/yourself over time. The most important part of this for them (and for your own routine) is consistency. You want to set kiddos brain up to think pajamas (or whatever) = bedtime, because cued behavior becomes automatic. Something to avoid if possible in this routine (for them AND you): screen time in the hour before bed Getting 2-4+ hours of screen time over the day (not even close to bedtime) for children was also correlated to poor sleep.
There’s a wide range of reasons that kids wake up that can get some help from nutritional interventions. For kids who are simply hungry, the intervention might be a good high protein snack before bed. High carb snacks like bread probably won’t help , but things like nut butter energy balls cottage cheese and peaches, a little protein shake all have decent evidence that for young active folks, they might have better quality sleep. A lot of grownups have other problems with night time eating, so this is one point that doesn’t necessarily cross apply from kids to grownups.
Growing pains often wake our elementary age kids, and there’s some evidence to suggest that this may happen more often with kids who don’t have enough copper or magnesium. Best evidence is for a good stretching protocol, but we often see cal/mag make a difference in kids. Magnesium is something we talk about a lot for our grown ups, and the thing that I mostly want to talk about here is that magnesium is an osmotic laxative. If you give your kids too much magnesium (and that’s weight based, a bit, so I’m not giving official recommendations here) they will poop So Much. You will be sad, they will be sad- so this one might need actual guidance from someone who can help you with the dose.
Lots of herbs are lovely for sleep, particularly in children. Most kids are totally down with tea, especially if it’s served in fancy cups. They will often eat flowers and leaves. You can turn a tea into a popsicle with a bit of juice or honey. The two herbs I’m going to list here I don’t have any concern about giving to even a 1 year old in a sippy cup. (before then, you should probably talk to an herbalist.
- Chamomile/chamomilla recutita/chamaemelum nobile has an extremely long history of use for sleep, and that’s backed up by research. Traditional use (if we’re going back centuries) is pretty much a tea made out of the flowers, which are happy weeds that are easy to grow here. Chamomile as a plant works best for kids that are a bit pissed off about everything, want 15 different things and then reject the thing they just asked for, have some stomach pain or the sniffles, and might be the kind of anxious that gets frustrated instead of quiet. Don’t worry too much about having the exact right profile though, most plants are happy to help and will do what they can to get you some sleep. I usually do a tablespoon of dried or fresh flowers to 8 ounces of hot water (as a ratio), let it steep for about 5 minutes, and when it’s cool enough for the kids, serve it in a very fancy mismatched tea set I got at a second hand store. Chamomile might not be the right plant if your family is doing the ragweed allergy thing, since it’s in the same family.
Lemon balm/Melissa officinalis has been used as medicine for so long that the latin name for this plant (the officinalis part) that it was labeled as official medicine when we started dividing our plants into pretty things and useful things. It’s no secret that lemon balm is one of my most favorite plants. Not only can lemon balm survive most anything (I have some volunteer lemonbalm growing in the cracks of my driveway that I don’t take care of at all and are thriving), the traditional name for it was “Liquid Joy”. Who doesn’t want some liquid joy?!
Anyway, all of this is backed up with a ton of research– and lemon balm tastes good. My kids will eat it out of the yard. Traditional use is again tea- though this is usually as sun tea. Lemon balm is flexible though, so you’ll find recipes for everything from muffins to cheesecake to pesto on the internet.
- What about melatonin?
Melatonin isn’t my favorite thing to give kids. Basically giving kids melatonin is somewhat assuming that they’ve got a neurodevelopmental or psych disorder, and that they can’t make their own melatonin, which is a hormones our bodies make when exposed to afternoon daylight as long as we’re not tanking it with the blue light of screens. Some kids certainly do need more help than behavioral, nutritional, and herbal interventions- but they’re not as common as our culture implies! Melatonin is not without side effects, either- there are related issues with growth, immune issues, headaches, dizziness, nausea and nightmares. You’re also probably giving too much- I see parents using 5 mg a lot, and that’s a TON of melatonin. Physiologic (or what the body normally dose) dosing is 0.1-0.3 mg per night for sleep, and 0.3-0.5 mg if you’re switching time zones. While there are some kids that adding melatonin is important for the odds are pretty solidly against it for the general public. Most kids- even our higher need kids- need lifestyle and behavior interventions, not hormone supplementation.
I get it, sleep is rough. I hear you. My oldest kid still often wakes at night, and the twins have been twinny the whole time. Of my 3 kids, only one of them has a normal sleep onset and routine- everyone else really requires the black out curtains and the white noise and the strict routine and sometimes the herbs and the snack. If you’re really struggling, come in so we can help you. You have to sleep. They have to sleep. Sometimes that’s a whole community effort.
As always, citations throughout. Click through for studies.