Even though sleep disruption is nothing new (isn’t lack of sleep meant to be part of the whole parenting thing?), more and more children and teens are struggling to get enough good quality sleep. Nutritionist guru, Lucinda Miller from the NatureDoc Clinic, explains how we can help reverse some of the stress and strain of the past two years that may be impacting our children’s sleep patterns more than ever before.
It can often take a child several hours to fall asleep, they may be a light sleeper, or they wake far too early. And, all three scenarios can impact on mood, motivation and focus the next day. Research has found that disrupted sleep or not enough sleep can affect school performance and learning. It can also increase the likelihood of risk taking, meltdowns and naughty behaviour. It’s also exhausting for the parents…
Adrenals Out of Sync
There is some evidence that sleep can be disrupted by being in a “fight or flight” high adrenal state. The pressure to perform well at school (either internally or equally from teachers or parents) and any additional stress from having special educational needs, neurodiverse traits, being bullied, or a difficult home life can also influence sleep quality.
Simply trying to pack in too much during the school day (especially with extra activities, sport commitments, or special educational support on top of the core curriculum), and not having enough down time can also mean that they find it hard to wind down to get to sleep or stay asleep.
A typical scenario of a “tired and wired” adrenal state, is when a child who seems to be tired, grumpy and slow for much of the day, can miraculously wake up in the evening and be buzzy even until the early hours. If cortisol is disrupted further, they might well wake at 4am for a couple of hours and then drift back to sleep for an hour or so before the morning alarm goes.
How can you calm that buzzy feeling? Chamomile tea is a good first start. Also try soaking for 20 minutes in an Epsom salt bath or take magnesium orally to help to tone down cortisol. A healthy lipid called phosphatidylserine, which comes as a food supplement (often combined with magnesium) can also dampen down too much cortisol at night. A lovely Indian herb called Ashwagandha is also known to calm down a high adrenal state.
Melatonin is a natural antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, boosts immunity and protects the brain, so it’s good to optimise the production of this important brain hormone for our overall health and wellbeing as well as a sleep aid. In the UK melatonin medication can be prescribed by a paediatrician, however there are several things you can do at home to help this to be made naturally from within.
Melatonin, the most important sleepy hormone for helping us get to sleep. It’s naturally produced by the pineal gland deep in brain, in response to our daily cycle of light and darkness exposure. We generally make more melatonin at night as it gets dark and less in the morning as the sun rises.
Try to get your kids outside in natural light in the morning (avoid sunglasses where possible). And then turn off all “blue-light” emitting screens such as phones and tablets at least 90 minutes before bed. Also keep the bedroom dark to send the right signals to the pineal gland.
Diet wise, Melatonin is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid in whole milk, cheese, nuts, seeds, turkey, chicken, avocado, oats and bananas. Also feed them high melatonin foods like goji berries, mushrooms, sweetcorn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, broccoli, cucumber as well as rice, barley and oats. Also try walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds and flaxseed. Montmorency cherry, a variety of sour cherry that is naturally abundant in melatonin and you can buy this as a drink or as a food supplement.
Generally, we find that if you get the adrenals better balanced, and melatonin optimised many sleep issues naturally melt away. If, however you are still struggling to help your child have a proper night’s sleep, do be in touch to book in with a NatureDoc practitioner who can dig a bit deeper and work out the root cause.
Lucinda Miller is the clinical lead of NatureDoc, which is a UK-wide team of nutritional therapists specialising in family nutrition, mental health and neurodevelopment. She is the author of two bestselling cookbooks The Good Stuff and I Can’t Believe It’s Baby Food. She also runs www.naturedoc.shop which is a hand-picked collection of high-quality food supplements and natural skincare.