My son – and therefore, the rest of his family – has struggled with sleep since he was a baby. When we adopted him at 15 months I had planned to sleep in his room with him to encourage attachment, but it didn’t take long to realize that my presence was not soothing to him, but exciting. If I was in the room he wanted to stay up and play. If I wasn’t in the room he wanted to stay up and play! We quickly figured out that he needed a very quiet, calm, and dark space to sleep, although even with that he still had trouble,
We’d put him to bed at 8, he’d yell (not cry) for 4 hours, fall asleep around 12, and was up by 5. Even after sleeping only 5 hours he wouldn’t nap during the day, and although he got very wild and dysregulated because of lack of sleep, he didn’t get cranky or grumpy, which was a positive, although I’m sure that 5 hours a night wasn’t especially good for his little body. I know it wasn’t good for me. I’m a light sleeper, so even though J was in his crib, and later, in his room with a baby gate keeping him safe, when he woke, I woke. When I asked our pediatrician he talked to me about sleep hygiene, like keeping a good routine, doing calming things before bed, and making sure the child is comfortable, but I had already tried all that and felt frustrated. I was very thankful when another doctor suggested melatonin, which was immediately effective in helping flip whatever switch led to sleep.
One of our solutions was melatonin, but when I asked on the Easy to Love Facebook page about non-med sleep remedies I got lots of other possibilities. Some children are just wired differently, and whether it’s brain chemistry, brain differences, body chemistry, or sensory overload (or all 4!), sleep can be a serious problem. Some kids might need medications, and some of us have found that medication alone doesn’t do the trick.
Certain medications can help with sleep, and some children become better sleepers as they grow older, but in case you want to try complimentary, herbal, or alternative helps for your little non-sleeper, here are some possibilities. Please discuss all options with your doctor before you give your child supplements, of course!
1. Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that the body makes (or is supposed to) that regulates sleep/wake cycles and circadian rhythms. For some people, including children with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities (like my son!), their natural melatonin is not enough. There seems to be a lot of debate about the amount of melatonin that is useful for children, or if it’s okay to take it for a long period of time, so definitely discuss all of this with your doctor.
2. Magnesium. Magnesium is a key nutrient for muscle relaxation and calming. In my house this has been an important addition to my son’s bedtime routine. Without it he is a very wild sleeper, jerking himself awake throughout the night. With it, when he falls asleep he stays asleep unless he’s anxious about something, which is another story. Be careful when adding magnesium to your child’s diet, however, as it can create loose bowels if in high doses. 3. Epsom salts in the bath can also be an effective way to add magnesium as it is absorbed through the skin.
6. A noise machine. If your child is hyper alert, adding white noise or nature noises to the space can be very calming, as it masks other noises in the house. My son has a noise machine that doubles as a radio, and he’s been known to fall asleep to rain noises, crickets, and opera music. I think it gives him something to focus on when he’s trying to fall asleep, which is another way he’s able to stay in bed.
8. Amino acid sleep formulas. GABA, Theanine, and L-Tryptophan all promote relaxation, and some of these formulas include all of these as well as herbs to promote sleep, like Valerian.
9. Feeling contained, safe, and snug, like in the Privacy Pop bed tent. My son LOVES his, and he actually had such great self-insight that he asked for one for his 14th birthday. If your child regularly creates nests, or rearranges his or her furniture to enclose his or her bed, you might want to consider this product. It was easy to set up and has been surprisingly durable.
10. Check your child’s sleep hygiene. This is LAST because most experts will list these things FIRST, and I know you’ve already thought of them, but on the off-chance you haven’t, consider a solid night-time routine, having the same bedtime every night, a dark room (courtesy of black-out curtains, if needed), low noise (courtesy of noise-blocking headphones), and a calm, quiet before-bed routine.
So – how about you? What non-medication remedies work for your child when it comes to sleep?