As a Naturopath, there is one health topic which I get asked about the most - sleep. We know how important it is and how much better we function when we get enough. Poor sleep can negatively affect our mood, concentration, immunity, problem solving ability and even lead to poor eating habits as we reach for high-energy snacks to get us through the day. Studies show 1 in 3 Australian adults and around a quarter of 12-15 year-olds and half of 16-17 year-olds are not getting enough sleep.
If sleep is so important for us, why is it so difficult to get enough? Let's face it, modern family life can feel hectic, there's a lot going on and trying to fit everything into the day often doesn't leave time to consider the lead-up to bedtime. Especially at the moment, with many parents trying to work from home whilst home-schooling on top of all the usual household tasks to contend with. Many things can interfere with our body's natural sleeping patterns including screen time, caffeinated drinks, over-stimulating activities, disruptive sleeping environment and underlying emotions and anxieties to name a few.
How much sleep do we actually need?
There is no magic number which works for everyone, but it is important to recognise how much sleep leaves you feeling rested and energised, and to recognise the same in your children's behaviour. As a guideline, this is about how much sleep everyone should be getting based on their age:
- Babies under 1: 14-18 hours throughout the day and night
- Toddlers: 12-14 hours per 24 hour period
- Primary school: 10-12 hours per day
- High school: 8-10 hours per day
- Adults: 7-9 hours per day
So how can we aim to get enough sleep for the whole family? Fortunately, there are a lot of natural remedies and tips I can share with you, that will help you work with you and your child's body to create better, restful sleep.
6 Natural Tips for better sleep starting tonight:
1. Natural remedies for better sleep
Let's start with some of my favourite herbs that can help support better sleep. One thing I love about herbs is that they each have unique properties that can help tackle the reason we can't sleep, whether that's anxiety, a busy mind or increasing melatonin production. They can also be used in many convenient and kid-friendly forms from balms to teas, and in baths.
- Chamomile is well known for it's calming properties. It has a special affinity for young children and can be used to help soothe a grumpy or teething baby. It works on both the nervous system and digestive system, and it's sweet scent brightens the spirits. Learn More >
- Lemon Balm helps to soothe anxieties and especially works on a nervous stomach, think anxious butterflies or knots in the belly. it has a lemony scent and taste and is safe for children and parents alike. Learn More >
- Lavender has a soothing scent which can help relieve mental stress. It is also an anti-spasmodic, helping to relax muscles which makes it an ideal sleep remedy. Learn More >
- Passionflower is a favourite for soothing the monkey-mind, when you just can't get your brain to turn-off. It's great to help unwind, empty your head and ease the tensions of the day.
- Tart Cherry has been shown to support healthy sleep and increase melatonin levels. Tart cherry juice can improve the quality of your sleep, your sleep duration, and help reduce the need for daytime napping
2. Turn the lights down at least 1 hour before bed.
This includes TV, computers, laptops and phones. Why? Because the light they produce mimics sunlight, and suppresses our production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin is actually an incredible hormone, which is responsible for putting us to sleep. During the day, it is important to get enough sunlight to suppress melatonin and keep us alert. You know the feeling if you've been in a dimly lit workspace and by about 3pm, you have to try to keep your eyes from closing. That's melatonin at work. So before bedtime, turning off all screens and dimming the lights signals to your body that it's time for sleep. And if you do find yourself having trouble getting to sleep, don't touch that phone, it will only make things worse.
3. Avoid stimulating food and drink before bed
Caffeinated drinks and sugary foods are designed to give our body an artificial energy rush, exactly the opposite effect we should be looking for before bed. So aim to eat dinner a few hours before bed to allow enough time for digestion, and eat plenty of whole foods such as grains and vegetables. They will keep your family full, and release a sustained energy, that won't cause blood sugar induced energy spikes and moody crashes.
4. Create a comfortable sleeping environment
The basics for an environment conducive to sleep, is quiet, dark and cool. For kid's rooms, it's important to take some time to notice anything in their space which may be disruptive or scary during the night for them, such as something that makes light or noise outside, objects which may cast scary shadows on the walls etc. You want to create a space they feel completely comfortable and safe in.
For parents, the same rules apply for creating a quiet, dark and cool space. It is also important to create a bedroom that feels like a safe sanctuary, somewhere you can let yourself fully relax. Clear up clutter and include some things that help you feel relaxed such as soothing artwork, colours and soft-lit lamps. Ensure your mattress and pillow are supportive, and not leaving you with a sore back or neck to contend with.
5. Establish a consistent bedtime routine
A good bedtime routine can be a real game-changer when it comes to getting better sleep for both kids and parents. It helps prepare the body and mind for sleep, and gives time for everyone to settle and relax before bed.
For kids, it's important to create a consistent routine of the same tasks which lead up to bedtime each night. Aim to start your routine about an hour before their bedtime, which should be the same time every night. Keep the atmosphere calm and positive.
Your bedtime routine could start after dinner and a bath:
- Your child gets into their pyjamas and brushes their teeth.
- In their room, you read your child a bedtime story for 15-20 mins.
- You apply some Sleep Balm to their pulse points.
- You and your child have a brief cuddle and kiss.
- Say goodnight.
The key thing, whatever activities you include in their bedtime routine, is that it is consistent every night. That way your child will know what to expect, and feels safe and secure at bed time.
For parents, it is just as important to establish a consistent bedtime routine. This includes maintaining a consistent bedtime and not getting sucked into the social media rabbit hole until 1am. Turn off screens and bright lights an hour before sleep and do something you enjoy such as reading a book, listening to some soothing music, taking a bath with some of our Dream or Relax Bath Soaks, doing some gentle activity such as yoga or meditating. This will help you build up your melatonin and give you time to process any worries and events of the day, and ease into relaxation before bed.
6. Deal with worries and anxiety in the daytime
One reason we can struggle to sleep, are all those quiet worries during the day, seem to get increasingly louder in the night. This is true for both parents and children. So it can be really helpful to take the time to discuss and find solutions for our children's worries during the day, to help minimise their disturbance at night. Take time to chat to your friends and family about your own anxieties or seek professional support to help you feel supported. For children that are especially prone to worry, re-assuring bedtime stories and a comforting toy they can share their worries with can be helpful. Something I have found helpful for my own busy mind at night, is to keep a pen and paper by my bed. If a concern, a to do list item or problem pops into my head, I write it down, knowing that I won't forget it, and can deal with it when I am better equipped in the morning.
I hope that these natural remedies and tips will help you and your family enjoy better sleep, and improve your time spent together during the day too. If you're looking for some simple and enjoyable ways to add some of the sleep herbs into your family's life, have a browse of some of our products which include them such as our Sleep Balm, Calm Balm & Dream Bath Soak & Relax Bath Soak.
Naturopath & Founder - The Physic Garden
Our advice is given generally, and can help your family settle to allow for better sleep. If however, you are experiencing ongoing sleep issues for which you can't pinpoint the problem or ongoing insomnia or anxiety, we recommend booking a visit with your healthcare practitioner to look deeper into the cause of the cause and best treatment.