Research & Education

Sleep Aids for Children

Sleep is as foundational for optimal health as are pure water and clean air. Nearly one third of our lives should be dedicated to this critical habit during which healing restoration growth and maturation occurs. Cognitive emotional and behavioral health is dependent on sleep quality. Sleep deprivation is not only linked to poor cognitive and emotional performance but also it can also increase cardiac risk factors immune dysfunction and hormonal imbalances. 

Adults often cite busy schedules stressful circumstances or relationships anxiety hormonal imbalances and late work schedules for lack of sleep. However many parents could attest to the fact that their children also contribute to their lack of sleep. When the baby doesn’t sleep neither does mama. Although the constant and normal awakenings due to a newborn’s arrival are temporary in most cases some parents experience prolonged sleep deprivation resulting from toddlers and children with sleep issues. Healthy toddlers and children may have an occasional night of sleeplessness but for those young ones who struggle with ADHD autism spectrum disorder fetal alcohol syndrome or drug addictions prolonged insomnia is a serious problem that affects both child and caregivers. In such cases helping toddlers and children sleep better will undoubtedly allow their caregivers to sleep better resulting in a win-win situation.

Good Sleep Hygiene

When establishing better sleep habits in infants toddlers and children it is best to begin with the most conservative intervention such as creating good sleep hygiene. Maintaining a routine sleep schedule that incorporates an early bedtime is important. According to a study of 3600 children aged 4 to 9 years a better health-related quality of life was associated with children who were asleep by 8:30pm each night compared to children who were asleep later regardless of total sleep time. 

Limiting screen time is another critical sleep habit. Despite efforts at warning the general public about the negative health effects of early screen time more than 70 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 years view television. In these early years television viewing has been associated with “later bedtime shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency.” Adults and children alike are encouraged to put away all electronic screens at least an hour before sleeping to encourage appropriate melatonin production and better sleep quality. However in young children total daytime screen time also appears to impact sleep quality.

Adopting a routine naptime earlier in the day has also been associated with better sleep quality. In a study of 50 toddlers aged 1.5 years a significant correlation was found between timing and duration of naptimes and nighttime sleep duration and sleep onset time. Early afternoon naptimes of a shorter duration induced longer nighttime sleep patterns. Alternatively longer late afternoon naps resulted in a later bedtime and shorter sleep duration.

Nutrition Support – Magnesium

Proper nutrition support can prove to be effective in many cases keeping in mind that appropriate dosing recommendations need to be followed.

Magnesium is one of nature’s most gentle relaxants. With dermal absorption providing a quick method of delivery infants toddlers and children can benefit from an evening soak in magnesium salts (Epsom salts). When time is limited a magnesium gel can provide an alternative option to a bath. Powdered magnesium can also be added to a bottle or beverage of choice to induce relaxation. Studies have shown that magnesium produces a calming effect on the behavior of children especially those on the autism spectrum or with hyperactivity and attention difficulties. Magnesium plays an important role in maintaining the calcium/magnesium gradient across neuronal cell membranes. It is also a required nutrient for nucleic acid metabolism brain development and homeostasis. Infants exposed to alcohol and/or drugs in utero show various nutrient deficiencies including magnesium which may further explain its usefulness in promoting sleep.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have often been associated with positive cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorder and/or ADHD. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are often noted among these children contributing to abnormalities in the synthesis transport and release of neurotransmitters that are necessary for sleep. DHA is particularly important in neurite growth membrane fluidity neurotransmission endothelial function neuronal survival and attenuating neurodegeneration. Sleep quality can be severely affected by these processes contributing to imbalanced melatonin levels and dysfunctional circadian rhythm. In a recent randomized controlled trial of 362 UK children “poorer total sleep disturbance scores were associated weakly but significantly with lower blood docosahexaenoic acid and a lower docosahexaenoic acid: arachidonic acid ratio” indicating that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation may improve sleep scores in children.


Children with compromised sleep patterns resulting from anxiety and hyperactivity may benefit from additional amino acid neurotransmitter precursors. L-Theanine has been shown to modestly improve sleep in children with ADHD. Glycine has also shown mild success in children with sleep disorders. L-Theanine stimulates GABA production and gently increase serotonin levels while glycine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Both amino acids confer a calming disposition that can support healthy sleep habits in children with neurotransmitter imbalances.

Healthy sleep habits in toddlers and children are important for normal health and development and can have a significant impact on cognitive emotional and behavioral challenges experienced by some. Even more so the positive effects of good sleep habits reach beyond the child to the parents whose sleep (and health) is most likely affected by that of their children.