Ah, sleep. I remember you, you beautiful creature. I truly apologize for treating you so poorly back in my pre-30’s/pre-child days, because now you have become more elusive than a purple unicorn in a tutu handing out chocolate. Can y’all relate? If you can’t, well, I’m sorry but for your safety, we can’t be friends.
Let’s face facts, as you get older, falling asleep easily, staying asleep and getting enough sleep to feel rested becomes not only more difficult to do, but ironically enough, it also becomes even more important in order for our bodies and brain to repair and work properly. Maybe this is one of the reasons why mommy brain is a thing? Anyway, sleep can be hard to come by as a parent, but did you know that many people who are NOT parents also suffer from more insomnia and other sleep related issues as they age? Did you know that children as young as, well, fresh out of the oven, can actually struggle with sleep issues related to everything from unbalanced circadian rhythms to neurological and sensory disturbances and sensitivities, to night terrors? It’s true! Sleep problems affect millions of people, worldwide, in every age group and stage of life. We all know sleep is important for brain function, development, emotional regulation, metabolism function, learning, cell repair and so much more, so what are we to do when sleep is hard to come by?
There are many natural things you can do for yourself and your child to help bring on the Zzzzz’s!
1. Sleep Prep
Getting your body ready for sleep while the sun is still shining is easy and necessary for optimal wellness. Having a daily routine, including a regular wake and sleep time, is essential to getting your circadian rhythms in order (those are the weird internal clock thingies that biologically regulate your sleep-wake patterns). That includes weekends and holidays. Yeah, I know you are giving me major side-eye right now, but trust me when I say that establishing a bedtime AND a wake-time routine is important!
What about naps?
Naps are cool and everything (I know you parents out there are like…what are naps?) and our tendency as an adult is that when we get the chance to nap we want to be face down in a puddle of our own drool for like, five days; but as grown-ups, we need to try to keep naps short and sweet. Naps, which are so amazing for kids, can cause havoc in the adult’s sleep-wake cycle. For kids it’s a different story entirely. Naps are necessary for kids under the age of 6 in order to keep them from developing the dreaded “overtired” syndrome. Kids who fight sleep or have sudden unexplainable bursts of energy in the evening often are actually struggling with being overtired. There are a ton of fancy resources out there for kid-age to nap ratios, but the bottom line is, encourage naps, especially when behavioural issues start to arise. Chances are pretty good that if behaviours are becoming an issue in a typically developing child, they are overtired. If, like us, you have a child who is gifted, highly sensitive (high needs), intuitive, spirited, has sensory processing issues, or any other form of special need, your child may have more difficulty with sleep. Lavender application and diffusion has been a WONDERFUL tool for our family, as well as weighted blankets. It doesn’t always help immediately, but it will promote calm, and sleep will usually follow.
Sometimes when we don’t get enough sleep, we might find ourselves falling asleep standing up! If you find yourself slumping in the afternoon and need a quick pick-me-up, Peppermint essential oil is WONDERFUL for zingity-popping you back to life. Aromatic use of Peppermint is safe for healthy adults and kids over 6; even women who are pregnant or nursing (if pregnant or nursing, inhale directly from bottle, do not place on body or in hands). Women who are pregnant or nursing and would like to wear or inhale an invigorating scent from their hands can use Wild Orange or Spearmint! If your kids need a pick me up, Wild Orange essential oil is a great choice for diffusion and it is safe to diffuse around all ages and populations.
Get Outside and Get Moving!
Spending more time outside during daylight hours can also help to regulate those weird internal clocks and gives you an awesome dose of vitamin D! Getting exercise during the day helps as well because you get your body, blood and breath moving.
Managing stress and tension during the day can help keep your nighttime sleep issues at bay. Try doing some yoga by yourself or with your kids. Did you know that there are yoga classes for mommy & baby, as well as whole family yoga classes, and yoga that incorporates the babywearing? You can also try meditation and mindfulness exercises (which are also wonderful tools for kids) and deep breathing exercises to help invigorate and clear your respiratory and circulatory systems and release tension. Serenity and Balance essential oil blends can be used to keep emotions and stress in check during daytime hours as well! For kids, and women who are pregnant, combining Lavender and Wild Orange will ease stress and tension without causing over-relaxation or tiredness.
2. Creating a Comfy Environment
Keeping your room cool is ideal for sleep. In general, a room temperature higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit is too warm for optimal sleep. You want to aim for somewhere between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit to promote the most restorative sleep. Keeping the room dark is also best. Nightlights for children (and even adults) are sometimes warranted and necessary, however, start off without using one. If you have a newborn, it is very tempting to put a nightlight in the room to aid in seeing your little one in the middle of the night or simply because it’s cute and it goes with their nursery décor but avoiding the initial use of a nightlight can help to prevent issues later. Our bodies react naturally to light and it stimulates us to wake. Keeping the room dark will not only simulate the womb for littles, it will also keep our sensory systems from thinking it’s time to wakey-wakey. Making yourself a homemade linen spray will help as well! You can combine a few drops of Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Serenity Blend and/or Ylang Ylang in a spray bottle with water and spritz over your bedding. Be sure that if you are bed-sharing with your little one that you do not use essential oil linen sprays until the child is at least 6 months old, and only use baby-safe essential oils, such as Roman chamomile and Lavender.
What if I can’t sleep?
Many of us struggle to fall asleep, especially women and ESPECIALLY mothers…sometimes this is a normal part of our biological programming. Mothers are biologically wired to attune to their child, and that doesn’t change overnight. Unless you have a medical condition or prescription that changes these settings, or you are extremely overtired, you are naturally programmed to sleep lightly in order to attend to your child’s nighttime needs. Even if you are not a parent, women in general tend to have more sleeping issues than men, partly because we have higher tendencies toward holding stress and anxiety, and partly because we forgot all those things at the grocery store and have 5 loads of laundry to do and forgot to write that message down at the office and need to call aunt Ruth for her birthday. That is not to say that men do not have sleep issues too. Insomnia is a very real and crappy obstacle. During these times it is our tendency to be stubborn and refuse to move until we fall asleep. We dig our feet into the mattress and tell ourselves to go to sleep or else but this just intensifies the problem by increasing anxiety and tension. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes of lying down, try getting up and doing something to help you tame the beast within such as reading, listening to calming music, journaling or drinking a warm cup of caffeine-free herbal tea…chamomile is my favourite! You can also try applying Lavender or a blend of Lavender and Roman Chamomile essential oil to the bottoms of your feet. You can do this for your children, as young as 3 months, and yourself during pregnancy, as well by combining 2-5 drops of each with Fractionated Coconut Oil in a roller bottle. Contact me for age appropriate dilution rates…. infants need more, older children need less. Proper dilution is very important!
3. Bedtime Routine
Finally, getting into a good bedtime routine is key in reinforcing all the other amazing efforts you make in your environment and throughout the day in order to promote restful sleep. This is true for children and adults. Doing the same things each night around the same time will tell your body it’s time to take it down a notch. Avoiding screens for about an hour before bed can help tremendously in preparing your body for sleep. Those nocturnal Pokémon are just going to have to wait…sorry folks. Taking a warm bath or shower, or giving your baby/child a warm bath or shower can really help to quiet and calm the senses and the body. Even if your kids are going crazy with the rubber ducks and foam letters, the warm temperature of the water helps to relieve tension and bodily stress from the day and helps to relax muscles, which will naturally induce a more restful body, even if it doesn’t necessarily look that way at the time. As long as your child is over 3 months, diffusing Lavender by itself, or for children older than 1 year, diffusing a blend of Lavender with Bergamot and/or Frankincense during bath time can help bring on the calm. As an adult, you can add a few drops of your favorite relaxing essential oil to a cup of Epsom salt, stir and add to your bath, or you can take an immersion shower by placing 5 drops near the back of the tub or on a damp washcloth near the back of the tub, which allows the steam of the shower to evaporate and disperse the aromatic compounds into the air.
4. My Favourite (sleep) Things: Essential Oils
Essential oil use for sleep is INCREDIBLE! Those that are safe for infants (over 3 months) are Lavender and Roman Chamomile. You can add Frankincense after 6 months and after 2 years, Bergamot, Vetiver and Ylang Ylang are good to go as well! Remember that with ALL children under 2, dilution is not just important but also necessary. Good carrier oils include olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and jojoba oil, but my favourite, because of its easy and quick absorption and non-greasy application, is Fractionated Coconut Oil. Dilution ratios are approximately 1-2 drops per 2 tablespoons of carrier oil for a baby, and 1-2 drops per 1/2-1 teaspoon for a toddler or preschooler.
As an adult, I love adding Patchouli, Sandalwood and Cedarwood to that list! The earthy, woodsy scents are very grounding and will bring you to a place of delightful slumber! Rub your favourite sleep and rest-promoting essential oil onto the soles of your feet, or apply to the back of your neck and back. You can also diffuse in the room where you sleep (be sure to only use baby safe oils if you bed or room share) and turn off the diffuser about 30 minutes before bed, because sleeping with your diffuser on can actually inhibit sleep due to sensory stimulation. Check tips for coping with sleep deprivation
Of course, as with all essential oil use, a little goes a long way. If you are using a high quality, Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade Oil, 1-2 drops are all you need!
*Essential oils, while natural, should also be used with care and as directed. If you want more information about how to use the oils mentioned in this article, please see my bio below. Not all essential oils are safe for children. Breastfeeding moms, women who are pregnant, people with medical conditions and those on prescription medications should always seek the advice of an expert before using essential oils, because not all oils are safe to use in these situations. Children, and women who are pregnant, should NEVER take essential oils internally, and should always dilute before using essential oils topically. Be Safe and Be Healthy: Mind, Body and Spirit!
Ginger Nicole Baker, M.Ed., CHC is a writer, a Masters level educator, an essential oils expert and a Certified Holistic Health Coach for individuals, families and all stages of pregnancy. She is the founder and CEO of Essential Owl Holistics which you can find on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She has a deep passion for helping others to embrace and practice proactive, natural and holistic care for themselves and their families. She and her husband, Adam, are the proud parents to their 20 month old daughter, Raienn, who has been her bright shining beam of inspiration. Learn more! For a private consult, or to schedule a class, webinar or training, Message her here!
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