“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” — Irish proverb
But what happens if you are one of the estimated 1 in 4 adults or your child is one of the estimated 1 in 3 children who have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep? There can be little that is more frustrating than trying to fall asleep and not being able to, or falling asleep and then waking in the middle of the night just staring at the clock for what seems like ages, or fighting with your child every night at bed time to just go sleep.
We can all agree that sleep is important. Each phase of our sleep is just as important as the next. Sleep is where our brain is sorting through the information from the day and where memory consolidation occurs. It’s a critical time for physical body repair. It’s a time when our growth hormones are released, and we have an Increase in immune function, it’s also where dreams happen. But what if it escapes us or our children night after night.
Unfortunately, for more and more people who are having issues with sleep, the exhaustion and frustration can lead them to seeking out sleep aids. Not just for themselves but for their kids as well.
Of course, there can be a time and a place for sleep aids, but they are best used as a last resort or for specific reasons, such as jet lag. They are meant for short-term, occasional use and come with their own set of side effects. Most importantly, they don’t get to the root cause of what’s the cause of the sleep issue, and often, as soon as you stop taking them, the sleep problems return. In an attempt to try something more natural, there has been a surge in people seeking out alternative treatments for their (and their kids) sleepless nights. A common natural sleep aid that is growing in popularity is melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that our body naturally produces to help guide our body’s clock and it’s sleep-wake cycle. It doesn’t make us sleep, rather it helps prepare for sleep. While most studies have shown that melatonin is safe for adults with little to no side effects, it’s still only recommended for occasional, short-term use. Melatonin has been shown to be effective for insomnia in some children with neurodevelopmental disorders, however, according to Health Canada, it’s use for children and teens is considered to be ‘off-label’ as the long-term effects of supplementing melatonin in kids are largely unknown.
There are things that you can do to help yours and your child’s sleep through naturally supporting melatonin production and natural sleep-wake cycles.
Get bright (blue) light exposure during the day (ideally sunlight)
- Open the blinds/curtains in the morning.
- Use a light therapy box if you are unable to be out in natural light a lot.
- Avoid wearing sunglasses for the entire time outside.
Avoid bright (blue) light in the evening
- Keep light levels lowered.
- Use blue light blocker glasses or filter on devices in the evening.
- Wear amber tinted glasses for the last 2-3 hours of the day.
- If you wake at night, try to avoid turning on bright lights or checking your devices. The sudden brightness will disrupt melatonin and cortisol levels, making it difficult to drift back to sleep.
Reduce and/or manage stress
- Increase stress-less movement like meditation, yoga, or walking.
- Set boundaries.
- Ask for help.
- Set a regular bedtime and stick to it.
- Avoid blue light devices at least 90 minutes before bed as melatonin begins to to rise 2 hours before bed.
- Aim for 8-9 hours every night (kids will need more depending on their age).
Set the mood
- Keep your room dark and cool when you sleep.
- Use black out curtains.
- Use a white noise machine.
- Ensure you have a gentle alarm to wake you in the morning.
- Avoid stressful movies/TV shows/books before bed.
- Activity during the day, helps with melatonin production and helps regulate cortisol.
Balance blood sugars
- Hormones like melatonin and cortisol are impacted by swinging blood sugars, so ensure protein, fiber, and fat is included with every meal and snack.
Embrace seasonal changes
- Adjust bedtimes based on natural light/dark patterns.
- Adjust indoor temperatures to reflect what’s happening outside.
At the end of the day, melatonin is a hormone, and all body’s hormones and processes are interconnected. Melatonin affects all the body’s clocks so it’s important to proceed with caution anytime you consider supplementing with a synthetic hormone.
There are however, other natural remedies and strategies that have shown to be effective for promoting better sleep.
A mineral we consume through our food and is considered an “anti-stress” mineral and has been shown to help promote a restful sleep. While we can supplement with magnesium, consuming chlorophyll rich, leafy greens, nuts and seeds in your diet are also great ways to increase your magnesium. If you were to consider supplementing, an easily absorbable form like magnesium glycinate is a great option
If you are not allergic to these plant families, chamomile, catnip, and passion flower are herbs that have been shown to be quite calming and promotes sleep. They are also good for the whole family as they are kid safe.
Set a calming routine that signals it’s getting close to bedtime.
Have a bath, read a book, meditate, practice yoga nidra, or anything else that you find relaxing and calming.
The added weight is said to mimic deep pressure stimulation and has been shown to support a restful night’s sleep.
If you’ve addressed yours or your child’s sleep hygiene and there are still sleep issues, consult your primary health care practitioner as there could be other issues at play.