Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Sleep has *always* been a challenge for our family, and time changes have become dreaded dates looming on the calendar when I know our already challenging sleep issues will be magnified to a degree that makes me want to move to the EU, or at least Saskatchewan, where time changes aren’t a thing.
And let’s face it, even without a time change or sleep disturbances, just parenting a child who has normal sleep behaviors for their developmental stage is utterly exhausting much of the time.
What IS normal? You might be asking… well, current research says it’s normal for babies to NOT sleep through the night for at least the first year of their lives. And some kiddos take longer.
Young children have a natural circadian rhythm that leads to going to bed early and waking up early, though there are certainly variations within the norm.
As children grow, it is normal for them to have bad dreams that wake them up… and it’s normal for them to need reassurance and closeness in order to go back to sleep.
It’s also normal for kids not to want to go to sleep at night and to try many different ways to push back bedtime.
Now, don’t get me wrong, none of these things are easy. In fact, they can be exhausting and exasperating! And losing sleep is really hard even when it falls within the range of normal. I will never minimize the experience of the exhausted parent who has no idea when they will again get a full night’s sleep. The struggle is real. Everything is harder when we aren’t sleeping.
Never fear, the tips I’m sharing will help you through normal sleep struggles too. (And, if you are an adult who struggles with sleep yourself, they will even help you!)
But the sleep struggles some of us face are not within the range of normal. From night wakings to never (never, ever, never) sleeping past 7am… and actually nearly always waking between 5 and 6am no matter how late our kiddos fell asleep, or how many times they woke during the night, or how long they stayed awake each time… solid sleep is something some of us treasure more than most things, because it has been so very rare for so very long.
And because I am among those who treasure sleep so much, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks over the years to help make it happen more frequently. What follows is an extensive list of all the things we have tried over the years, with varying success, as well as an “ideal” bedtime routine incorporating the things that have worked best for us.
Whether you have a child with a disability, or one who is just struggling to sleep, it’s my hope that some of these things will help you and your child get the sleep you need.
Sleep tip #1: Essential Oil
We’ve tried various blends over the years, and have found that if nothing else, it sure smells great!
Our best success has been using a roller and applying it to the bottoms of feet, wrists, and behind the ears.
A diffuser is good too, but they can make noise, which can bother those with auditory sensitivities, and can also wake kids up if they shut off in the middle of the night.
Our least successful essential oil experience was spraying pillow cases with lavender mist or washing sheets with lavender detergent. Both ways the aroma seemed to dissipate quickly, and I’ve found that lavender alone isn’t as effective as a blend designed for sleep.
Our favorite is here: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0727V22DC/ref=ya_aw_oh_bia_dp?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Sleep tip #2: Drinks (no, nothing harder than chamomile)
If your child will drink it, warm milk with a splash of real vanilla is a great help with falling asleep.
While hard evidence might be lacking, this age old remedy for sleeplessness remains popular and has been effective in our home.
Milk contains tryptophan and melatonin, which should both relax us and make us sleepy.
Another warm drink from my arsenal of tricks, chamomile tea with a bit of raw honey is soothing and helps us relax and fall asleep after a hard day.
I like to use this loose organic chamomile (and the bulk bag lasts forever!): https://smile.amazon.com/Frontier-Organic-Chamomile-Flowers-German/dp/B001VNGN9C/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?crid=293LU0XWZAKWE&keywords=frontier+organic+chamomile+flowers&qid=1552269776&s=gateway&sprefix=frontier+organic+cha&sr=8-2
Tart Cherry Juice
This one is a “sometimes” thing for us. We use it when kids are really wound up and need to calm down before bed. It’s not a nightly thing, which may actually make it more effective because it’s a natural form of melatonin.
This is what is in our fridge right now: https://smile.amazon.com/Cheribundi-Tart-Cherry-Juice-Ounce/dp/B004H3V1TA/ref=mp_s_a_1_4?crid=1450XKG0QST7M&keywords=tart+cherry+juice&qid=1552269084&s=gateway&sprefix=tart+cherry&sr=8-4
Sleep tip #3: melatonin gummies
Melatonin is definitely useful for helping humans sleep. It’s something our bodies produce naturally, but as a supplement it has side effects, including nightmares, and it’s likely that we should not use it for long periods of time as it may affect our bodies’ own production.
I use it only as a last resort on really rough nights and in very low doses. We have 5mg gummies that I cut into quarters. We only need a very little bit!
When it’s a last resort kind of night, this is what I have cut up in my cupboard: https://smile.amazon.com/Melatonin-Gummies-Size-60ct-Sundown/dp/B00RZPH3ZI/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3S4J2958ZDT7I&keywords=sundown+melatonin+gummies&qid=1552269168&s=gateway&sprefix=sundown+mela&sr=8-3
Sleep tip #4: lavender Epsom salt bath
Our favorite way to relax at night is a good warm bath. Who doesn’t love a good bubble bath? Adding lavender Epsom salts takes the relaxation up a notch, by providing us with magnesium, which calms us down and helps us get ready to sleep.
We love Dr. Teal’s: https://smile.amazon.com/Dr-Teals-Soaking-Solution-Lavender/dp/B00LW1KAYC/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3SUTT6J5PPJ4&keywords=dr+teals+epsom+salt&qid=1552269231&s=gateway&sprefix=dr+teal&sr=8-3
And we usually have the bubble bath too: https://smile.amazon.com/Teals-Foaming-Soothe-Sleep-Lavender/dp/B01HIGUUBW/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=GPZIATVGC3BW&keywords=dr+teals+foaming+bath&qid=1552269334&s=gateway&sprefix=dr+teal&sr=8-3
Sleep tip #5: Sleepology
A company called Genexa makes Sleepology… chamomile in tablet form that was really a game changer for us. With the melatonin giving nightmares, we were looking for something else and stumbled across these little gems.
After taking them for a few months, it was like my son’s body adjusted to the routine of sleeping all night and even though he has stopped taking them, our night wakings have decreased significantly.
Sleep tip #6: SnugBug
The SnugBug is a weighted blanket alternative that was the best discovery ever. Weighted blankets tend to slip and slide off the bed, and once it’s on the floor there is no retrieving it (at least not without waking in the middle of the night).
The SnugBug is a stretchy “bed cocoon” that wraps around the whole mattress. And while it’s a pain to get on and off the bed, it is so completely worth it. Not only has it reduced night wakings for us, my son’s sleep is more peaceful and he wakes in a better mood more often.
Sleep tip #7: salt lamps
I know nothing about the science behind these lamps, or whether our air quality is improved by them, but I do know that the soft, warm glow is soothing. It is the first thing we turn on in the morning and the last thing we turn off at night.
Find one here: https://smile.amazon.com/Himalayan-Hymilain-Crystal-Dimmable-Certified/dp/B06XYZBCYP/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3EWD4TIWEN6AI&keywords=himalayan+salt+lamp&qid=1552269629&s=gateway&sprefix=himalay&sr=8-3
Sleep tip #8: white noise machine
I’ve had at least five different sound machines, ranging from a CD on repeat, to an expensive little thing with a full range of sound choices, to a whooshing air machine that makes only one sound. By far, my favorite is the Marpac Dohm Classic. You pay a little more for this one, but our current one has lasted over two years now and is still going strong.
My son requests this every night if I forget to turn it on.
Not only does it make a soothing sound, it blocks out all the other sounds that super sensitive ears pick up on.
We got ours here: https://smile.amazon.com/Marpac-Classic-White-Noise-Machine/dp/B00HD0ELFK/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=2GIHDGAD8DDII&keywords=marpac+dohm+classic+white+noise+sound+machine%2C+white&qid=1552269696&s=gateway&sprefix=maroac&sr=8-3
Sleep tip #9: complete darkness
I know this one can be hard! I am very cognizant of fears of the dark and the need for nightlights not only in bedrooms, but also in hallways and bathrooms and kitchens and closets.
Ok, maybe not closets…
Room darkening shades, clocks that don’t glow, removal of any screens at least an hour before bed, no other electronics in the room… all of these things help with sleep. Any light causes wakefulness, and makes it more difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep tip #10: regular routine
All of these things are most effective when incorporated into a regular routine. On days when we are doing well, our ideal bedtime routine looks like this:
6:30pm lights throughout house are dimmed in winter; warm lavender bath; pjs; cherry juice, or chamomile tablet; brush teeth
7:00pm dim lights in bedroom with shades drawn, essential oil, in bed, read stories
7:30pm sound machine on, and lights out
Most nights I need to lay on the floor beside my son’s bed while he falls asleep (thus, this blog post as we “spring forward” with this hateful time change).
A regular routine preps our bodies and brains for sleep, creating neural pathways that lead us more easily to sleep over time.
It is important to know that even after all these things and all these years later, sleep still is not perfect for us and probably never will be. But it is good enough. We are not zombies. We do not need to walk around with an IV of coffee dripping into our forearms.
If you are still in the zombie or IV coffee stage, I hope you find these tips useful! What has helped you and your child get sleep?