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How to…Get Some Sleep

  • Posted on March 28, 2012 at 8:06 AM

When my boys were younger, they had a lot of trouble sleeping.  Our current problems with sleep seem insignificant in comparison.  I remember getting three hours of sleep a night.  It went something like this: Willy would be wildly awake until he fell into a brief, exhausted sleep that lasted maybe five hours.  I fell down and slept as soon as I could.  A few hours later—three or four usually—Alex would wake up, eager for morning.  By the time Willy’s sleep schedule normalized (more or less), Alex was where Willy had been (difficulty falling asleep) and Ben was where Alex had been (waking up very early).  Now, both Alex and Ben are (more or less) in sync. 

It might seem ill-advised for me to do a how-to on this topic, since it’s something we still struggle with, but it’s that “still” that has modified our techniques for more effective solutions.

Personally, I advise against medicating children unless absolutely necessary.  But, sleep is necessary, and there are more natural solutions than the kind of sleeping pills adults so often rely on.  Here’s what’s worked for us:

1) Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body to control your sleep/wake cycle.  “Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours,” according to WebMD.  But sometimes this natural production doesn’t work so well.  Luckily, it can be supplemented without druggy side effects.  There are both pills (which are safe to be ground up) and liquid forms of melatonin you can dose your children with to stimulate sleep.

2) Lavender

Lavender is a flower (as well as a color and a scent) that can be reduced to its essential oils.  Natural lavender (the flower or the essential oils) can trigger relaxation, which can translate to sleepiness without the druggy side effects.  Just be aware that you don’t just want a mass produced lavender scent (candles and other smelly products).  You want something with real lavender oils in it.  Natural food stores often carry the essential oil products, and a few drops in the bath, rubbed over the chest, or sprinkled under a pillow can make a world of difference for a good night’s sleep for those who are so revved up they can’t calm down, even when tired.

3) Staggering

Anything you use can be overused.  The body can get used to it, requiring higher doses to the point that it gets dangerous—even homeopathic oils and natural supplements, like melatonin and lavender, can become dangerous with high doses.  Instead of upping the dose, take a break from the product.  The break should be long enough for the body to adjust; a few days are usually enough.  Then start again.  Start by using one product (melatonin, for example) for a while.  Then, start up with the other product (lavender, for example).  Overlap for a night or two.  Then, stop using the first product for a several days (maybe as long as a week).  Use only the second product.  Then, switch again, following the same pattern.  This should help you and your child(ren) get some much needed sleep, without overusing or overdosing.

And don’t be afraid to dose yourself.  Your body gets used to the rhythms of your children, so you might need the extra help getting a good night’s sleep even after you’re sure your children are getting the rest they need.

Some other natural products you might want to try include:

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Relaxation techniques (think yoga, and there are yoga programs for kids)
  • Light therapy (for those who are responsive to the change in seasons)