Getting kids to sleep is tough, but what if you're dealing with childhood insomnia? Whether your child can’t drift off or wakes up in the middle of the night, he or she is probably feeling the effects of lack of sleep during daily life. That's why, as a parent, your main concern is to help get your child start getting the slumber he or she needs.
Who better to ask for help with children's sleep problems than doctors who are also parents? We asked doctors for their best natural insomnia remedies that they “prescribe” for their own kids’ sleep struggles. From how to fall asleep faster to how to stay asleep once there, here's what they said.
How to cure childhood insomnia: Use melatonin.
“Whenever we traveled, my now-grown son always had trouble adjusting to the change of routine and sleeping somewhere new,” recalls Jill C. Carnahan, M.D., medical director of Flatiron Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado, and a mother of three. So she made sure to pack melatonin in her bag. “I gave him 3 mg before bedtime, which helped normalize his circadian rhythms and told his body the appropriate time to go to sleep,” she explains.
Melatonin is a common choice for childhood insomnia and sleeplessness: A survey in the journal Pediatrics found that 15 percent of pediatricians recommend melatonin or an herbal remedy for kids who have sleep issues. Says Dr. Carnahan, “In about 20 minutes, my son would be well on his way to a good night’s rest.”
How to treat childhood insomnia: Try deep breathing.
“My 11-year-old daughter can get very worked up when a test is around the corner,” says Sarah Davis, M.D., founder of Park Cities Personal Physicians in Dallas and mother of two. “She stresses so much that sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night.”
To help her fall back to sleep, Dr. Davis counts to five as her daughter imagines her breath coming into her body. Next, she asks her daughter to exhale slowly to another count of five. “I tell her to keep her mouth closed and repeat to herself ‘in through the nose, then out through the nose’ as she inhales and exhales.” Why it works: Deep breathing helps children focus on something other than their stress and slows heart rate, decreasing anxiety. “It takes some practice — we repeat the exercise a handful of times — but after about 15 minutes, she’s drifting off again.”
Sleep disorders in children: Outsmart bad dreams.
“Around the time she was 7 years old, my daughter started having nightmares about monsters chasing her,” says mother-of-three Catherine Marshall, M.D., a pediatrician in Encino, California. To help calm her down, Dr. Marshall turned to a Native American solution: a dream catcher. It’s believed that when a dream catcher is hung above your bed, the good dreams pass through while the bad ones get caught in the webbing and are destroyed in the morning.
Dream catchers are available for as little as $5 at amazon.com, but Dr. Marshall chose to make one with her daughter, using a kit from a craft store. “It was so easy and fun to create, and after we were done, we hung it above her bed. It worked like a charm. Her nightmares virtually disappeared!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.