Every child needs proper sleep for overall development. Toddlers, in particular, have recommended sleep durations that can be used as guidelines to determine if they are sleeping normally.
But for the 15% to 25% of children with sleep difficulties, getting enough rest can feel daunting. For this reason, many parents have turned to melatonin and other sleep aids as a solution.
But do sleep aids work? And are they safe for your kids?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the common sleep aids, and if they are effective and safe for the little ones. This article is not in any way intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Always seek professional medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider.
One study shows that about 75% of school-aged children have sleep problems. Often, the problem can go from bad to worse that parents and doctors use sleep medication as a solution.
In another study, Nonbenzodiazepine sleep drugs such as Ambien and Sonata were among the medications doctors prescribed to help children fall asleep. Other medicines prescribed were antihistamines, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medicines.
Pharmaceutical Sleep Aids by the Numbers
Data from the study reveals that antihistamines were the most prescribed drugs to treat sleep problems.
- Antihistamines (33%)
- High blood pressure medicine (26%)
- Benzodiazepines (15%)
- Antidepressants (6%)
- Nonbenzodiazepines (1%)
Any sleep drug should not be given to children with sleep problems. In the United States, there are no approved prescription drugs to treat children with insomnia.
Your kids could be at risk of overdose with these sleep aids. Doctors might make an error in changing the dose for adults to fit a child’s weight.
TV and Media
Using TV and media is another common sleep aid for children. However, this is more of a lifestyle and not a prescription sleep aid drug.
TV and Media (as Sleep Aids) by the Numbers
A 2006 study reveals that 36.7% of adolescents fell asleep while watching television. The other 28.2% and 14.7% were boys and girls, respectively, who fell asleep while playing computer games.
Moreover, a whopping 60.2% of adolescents listen to music to help them fall asleep. And about half of those respondents use books as a sleep aid.
Using TV as a sleep aid for children is quite common and fairly harmless. After all, many adults use music to help them drift off to bed. That said, the consequences show that it might not be a good idea for parents trying to impart healthy, long-term sleeping habits to their kids.
With reading books as an exception, the use of TV and media as a sleep aid is negatively related to the respondent’s:
- number of hours of sleep per week
- time to bed on weekdays and
- self-reported level of tiredness.
Further, those who reportedly use TV, computer games, and other media as a sleep aid have fewer sleep hours and are extremely tired.
Melatonin is a popular and commonly prescribed sleep aid for children. It is our body’s natural hormone that promotes sleep.
Common Use of Melatonin in Adults
Generally, melatonin is used to treat:
- Jet lag
- Circadian rhythm disorders
- Anxiety before surgery
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome
- Low levels of platelets in the blood
- Sleep disorders related to mental health and
Medline Plus states that melatonin can also be used for sleep disorders in children with developmental disorders such as:
- cerebral palsy,
- autism and
- intellectual disabilities.
According to The Wall Street Journal, melatonin is completely safe for children with special needs. It is safe for healthy kids, too.
Melatonin is only recommended for short-term use and with the doctor’s supervision. There aren’t enough studies involving the long-term use of synthetic melatonin and its side effects.
Also, healthcare professionals are concerned because many parents give melatonin to their kids more than the recommended duration. Synthetic melatonin and other sleep aid medicines should only be used in the most serious sleep and neurological disorders.
What are the best sleep aids for kids?
Granted, the solutions we discussed in this article are just 3 of the sleep aids among many. Nevertheless, many experts in the medical field agree that the best sleep aids for children are natural solutions — not media, medication, or supplements.
Pharmaceutical sleep aids for adults are discouraged in children. Moreover, melatonin use in children should be under the careful guidance of a doctor as there is a lack of evidence and study of its side effects.
While there are medically reviewed vitamins and supplements for children, the FDA doesn’t monitor them in the same way they monitor medicines. And thus, it is best to consult a doctor before trying them.
Natural Solutions are the Best Sleep Aids for Kids
Each day, parents of children with sleep difficulties start to worry as bedtime comes. Many of them are unsure how they can help their kids fall asleep every night.
Fortunately, you can change your children’s behavior and their sleep environment to promote a peaceful slumber. And for this reason, we’ve compiled proven tips that can help your children fall asleep. The tips presented in this article are ideal for toddlers through early adolescence.
Proper Habit and Behavior that Promote Good Sleep
Create a Sleep Routine
We are creatures of habit. A consistent sleep routine will train your kids when to settle down and prepare for bedtime. Each child can have a unique routine. Just make sure it lasts around 20 minutes.
The routine should consist of 3 to 4 quiet, soothing activities such as:
- A warm bath
- Brushing teeth
- Putting on PJs and
- Reading a book
Bedtime routines can provide your kids a sense of comfort and familiarity that acts in direct opposition to the unpredictability of sleep difficulties.
Set a Schedule for Bedtime
A schedule for bedtime works with your child’s internal biological clock, which helps your child to sleep in regularity.
A good bedtime schedule should be consistent. This means keeping the same schedule for school nights and weekends. Different bedtime schedules will make it difficult for your kids to maintain regularity in sleeping.
Related Read: Nap Advice: How Do Daycares Get Babies to Sleep?
Implement Curfew on TVs, Pc, and Mobile Devices
The universality of TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone screens makes this rule a bit harder to implement, but it’s well worth it. Screens from these devices emit a type of blue light, which suppresses the function of melatonin.
Keep all electronic devices out of your child’s bedroom one hour before bedtime. Screen time can stimulate your children’s brain, which makes it harder for them to wind down for sleep.
Avoid Violent or Scary Content
Feeling worried and scared are some of the common reasons that make it hard for children to fall asleep. Sleep disturbances in children are linked to exposure to violent or scary movies, video games, and even books.
While this may be a no-brainer, there are unusual suspects that you should consider. Soda, energy drinks, chocolate, tea, and even decaf coffee, are discrete sources of caffeine.
For toddlers, a small amount of caffeine can have a big impact on their little bodies. And so, make sure your kids don’t consume caffeine within 6 hours before bedtime. Or better yet, don’t let them have any caffeine at all.
Figure Out What’s Causing Those Restless Nights
Your child’s restless nights might be caused by nightmares, and night terrors.
Nightmares are bad dreams that people remember after waking up. If your child didn’t sleep well or had a bad dream the night before, you can ask about the problem in the morning.
If your child can talk to you about his bad dream, you can help him come up with a positive ending. Or present something that your child can focus on that helps him forget about the nightmare. Explain to your child that nightmares aren’t real, and reassure him that he is safe.
On the other hand, night terrors and sleepwalking occur in the first third of the sleep cycle. Generally, a child with night terror or sleepwalking episodes won’t remember the dream after waking up. It would be best to have your child evaluated by a sleep specialist.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Bedrooms should only be used for resting. Create a strong association with the bed and the room so your kids can fall asleep faster. And thus, make sure toys and other distractions are out of the room as bedtime approaches.
Also, keep pets out of the bedroom during bedtime. Some animals make noises and movements at night, which could awaken your kids from their peaceful slumber.
Get Your Child to Exercise
Exercise helps children of all ages fall asleep faster. They need at least one hour of physical activity everyday. An exercise within 2 hours before bedtime could make your children so wound up that they couldn’t sleep at all.
Sleep Environment Adjustments that Promote Good Sleep
Optimizing your child’s bedroom can help him fall asleep faster. People having trouble sleeping are often distracted by an uncomfortable bedroom. Here are some tips for a good night’s sleep:
Adjust to an ideal room temperature
Our body and brain both cool down as they prepare for sleep. A stuffy environment can disrupt this cooling down process. Keep the thermostat at an ideal room temperature, which is around 65 degrees.
Implement noise-blocking measures
Research suggests that even mild noises can affect the quality of your child’s sleep. You can use curtains that cut down on street noise. Also, white noise from fans and other machines can help drown out distracting or unpredictable sounds.
Adjust to sleep-inducing light levels
Start dimming your child’s bedroom lights as bedtime approaches. Your child has fallen asleep, try to keep the bedroom as dark as possible. This can help produce healthy levels of melatonin in the brain as well as the proper functioning of his biological clock.
Apply soothing, sleep-inducing fragrances
Calming or soothing scents like lavender can yield mild sedative effects that promote quality slumber for your child. Other options are dried potpourri sachet and essential oils, which is an excellent room diffuser.
As parents, you need to implement proper sleep hygiene and optimize your child’s sleep environment to help him fall asleep faster.
At Brightside Academy, we provide a positive learning environment that may help free your child from negative thoughts that lead to sleep difficulties.
Reach out to us to know more about our specialized programs for Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, Remote Learning, Before and After School Care, and Summer Camp for Children.