Adults and children can both have problems sleeping, and the inability to sleep can cause havoc at home, on-the-job, and at school. But in an attempt to solve the problem, adults often turn towards sleeping pills or other over-the-counter sleep aids like Tylenol PM. But people don’t realize that sleeping pills don’t allow for the REM-based sleep that we need to feel rested. Instead, they just knock you out instead of allowing you to experience true, restful sleep.
Better alternatives are techniques and herbs that relax and allow for true sleep. And many of these remedies can be used with children, whose sleep problems are frequently overlooked.
There are three ways to put yourself to sleep without the aid of narcotics: relaxing, aromatherapy, and herbal remedies. Herbal options, which can be taken as teas, pills, and tinctures, don’t prevent REM sleep, and as a result you experience true rest. And these techniques can be used with children, too! Ideally, though, you’ll make relaxing a regular part of your family’s evening routine; some simple changes may prevent the need for any other sleep aids altogether. If you need more help sleeping, though, aromatherapy then herbal aids can help solve your problems.
Getting the body and mind physically prepared for sleep may seem like a no-brainer, but as you probably could guess few people do it; the stresses of the day can sometimes be too demanding and relaxing seems like a luxury. In fact, though, a good night’s sleep (and the relaxing that goes with it) is paramount for remaining as productive as possible during the day, and becomes a necessity just like brushing your teeth. Here’s some ways to prepare for sleep, so you and your children can get to sleep and stay that way:
Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same times each day is a way to tell the body, “Hey…you’re supposed to be asleep now.” We are creatures of habit, and our bodies do take ques from patterns we set in our lives. Adults benefit from this just as much as children.
Keep your bedroom for sleep…and one other thing: What that other thing is you can guess and it’s between you and your partner. Other than that, sleep should be the only thing going on in the bedroom. No TV, no reading, nothing else. Or if you do read, don’t pick up something that’s going to get your emotions boiling or your interest peaked. For children, choose soothing stories without too much emotion.
Keep your bedroom cooler if you can: We sleep better when we’re cool. It’s as simple as that.
Don’t go to sleep angry: If you have problems with someone you care about, try to solve them. Don’t do it through text or email, either….that solves little. We spend a lot of time now avoiding problems through a computer, yet that just leaves them fester and interrupts our sleep. Don’t be afraid…approach those you’re in conflict with and either clear the air, solve the problem, or move on. Your sleep will thank you for it. Allow your children to do the same before they get their pajamas on.
Some people might scoff at the idea that a mere scent can help you sleep. But we are highly wired to scent, and once we smell something (say, a skunk), we never forget what that smell is. Just think of how the smell of a fresh pie or bread in the oven can make you feel. Scents can have the same effect on sleep, and have been used for centuries in different cultures for that very purpose. Aromatherapy will promote relaxation and help calm the mind to enhance restfulness.
Choose scents that are known to promote sleep: Scents such as lavender, clary sage, chamomile, geranium, marjoram, rose, neroli, sandalwood, jasmine, ylang ylang, and bergamot either alone or in combination are great choices for promoting restfulness.
Avoid scents that are stimulating: Invigorating scents like peppermint, grapefruit, rosemary, lemon, or pine should be avoided before you are heading to bed. They are great first thing in the morning, though!
Avoid synthetic scents: Fake scents won’t quite do it. They aren’t real, so they won’t promote real relaxation. Invest in quality essential oils; they last a long time.
Make a bed linen spray: I do this in a small spray bottle with water and several drops of lavender oil. I spritz it on my pillow and sheets before I go to bed if I know I’m in a pattern of waking in the middle of the night. It works.
Scents in the bath: While it’s not a good idea to take a warm bath right before bed (you sleep better when your body is cooler), taking one about an hour before you go to bed and including soothing scents in the bath water does promote both relaxation and provide the benefits of aromatherapy. This is a great way to help relax kids, too.
Scents in the shower: Again, you want to avoid taking a hot shower right before bed, but they’re great an hour before you retire. And a shower is a wonderful place to include scented bath salt scrubs, and scented oils on your skin (and some scents, like sandalwood, are not “girly” for the guy contingent out there).
Scents by the bed: Taking a cotton ball, adding several drops of sleep-inducing scents, and putting the cotton ball next to your pillow is one way to keep the scent close to your nose. You can also create pockets on the underside of your pillow cases and stuff them with herbs, or fill flame-free diffusers with your soothing scent of choice and have it next to the bed. There are many ways to introduce scents into your or your child’s bedroom.
When relaxing and soothing scents don’t quite cut it, herbal remedies are there for you. I have a hard time sleeping sometimes, and I keep a bottle of herbal sleep aid by my bed. When I know I’m in a pattern of not sleeping well, I take some before I go to sleep and if I wake up in the middle of the night, I take two more. It makes a world of difference and since I’ve started using herbal remedies I don’t suffer during the day from lack of rest at night.
Herbs can be consumed about 30 minutes before bedtime either in tea form or capsules. You can make either of them yourself, but there are many teas available at even mainstream grocery stores that promote restfulness, such as Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea. Stores such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or local food co-ops carry a much wider array of herbal teas and capsules that treat a variety of things, including insomnia. Here are some common herbs that will help you sleep by reducing anxiety or promoting a sedative effect, among others:
California poppy: This is frequently found in teas and other homeopathic sleep aids, and is appropriate for children and adults alike.
Chamomile: This is a common and well-known sleep aid that is appropriate for both adults and children and is used commonly for this purpose in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. Chamomile is great because not only can it be consumed, the oil can also provide relaxing benefits in the bath, in oils, and more.
Hops: Hops is not nearly as well-known as chamomile for it’s soporific properties, but it indeed is known to relieve stress and insomnia. It is frequently used in many tea mixes created for treating sleeplessness.
Kava-kava: This is another popular herb that is used in tea and capsule mixes to promote sleep. You’ll frequently find it along with hops, passion flower, and others on this list for that very purpose.
Passion flower: This is a wonderful treatment for insomnia and sleeplessness, and is included in many herbal teas for that purpose for adults and children alike. In Europe the use of passion flower is much more common than it is here, and there’s a reason for that: it works.
Skullcap: Skullcap is another herb that enhances sleep by reducing anxiety, one of the many reasons people have problems sleeping. It has a similar action to valerian root but, I believe, in a more mild form. Skullcap is another frequent ingredient in sleep-aid teas.
Valerian: This is becoming just as well known for treating sleeplessness as chamomile is. It can frequently be found in capsules created to assist with sleep, and is known to decrease incidents of waking up in the middle of the night. I have found this to be true myself, as I rely on valerian for this purpose when I am in a cycle of sleeplessness. This is one of the best alternatives to drugs because it has a true sedative effect without the side effects of something like Valium. This might not be an appropriate choice for children unless it’s included as a mix in a tea.
Wild lettuce: This produces effects similar to valerian with a focus on enhanced calming, but it is much more mild, making it a good choice for children.
Melatonin: Melatonin isn’t an herb, it’s a natural hormone that promotes regular sleep cycles in our bodies. It is frequently found in concert with valerian in capsule form for as a reliable sleep aid.