I'm a mother of three and I loooove to sleep. I'm talking at least 8 hours every night. Anything less and I turn into quite the hot mess. Strangely enough though, when my children were newborns, I savored our nightly cuddles. I look back fondly at those late night nursing sessions while watching reruns of FRIENDS. The whole experience of cradling your baby while the rest of the house was quiet was something magical to me.
But as they grew older, not sleeping was a big cause of grief. Once I got back into the habit of sleeping all night without interruption, it was hard for me to handle random late night awakenings. So I can completely understand why so many parents ask me to if I can help their child to sleep all night.
Before I dive into the aromatherapy advice, I want to mention a few things.
1. You should assess WHY the child is getting up. Are their basic needs being met? One of my children started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks. Another one didn't start until 10 months. Why the difference? The latter child would wake up hungry. I could hear her little tummy growling, so of course, I fed her. I don't put a timeline on when a kid should start sleeping through the night because each kid is different.
Are they teething? Are they in pain? Are they overstimulated? Did they nap too long? Are they overly tired? So many options! But there is usually a reason why a child is waking up and you should determine what that is before going further.
2. Develop routines, not crutches. A routine is the same action every night so the child knows what to expect. This could include bath, massage, book, music, etc. A crutch is giving them something every night that is sleep inducing. This includes things like essential oils and Melatonin. A crutch will only make the child dependent on the aid to fall asleep.
My advice is develop a routine and stick with it, down to the exact minute. Once a child can sleep through the night, I put them to sleep at the same time without fail. You will notice after consistently doing this for several nights that they will start to relax earlier and will be sleepy when it is their bedtime.
3. Outdoor Time- So many parents discount the importance of outdoor time. How many of you notice your kids sleep better after a full day at the pool, after going on a hike, or just playing outside? We are innately connected to nature and being in it can help our biological patterns, such as sleep.
If your kid is of walking age and having trouble calming down before bed, practice this earthing technique. Have them play outside before bed, close to sunset, without shoes on. (Of course, this part depends on the weather and how much dog poop is in your backyard.) Have them watch the sunset while standing barefoot on the grass. This helps to reset their circadian rhythm.
With that being said, the guidelines I am giving are for children who usually sleep through the night but may be sick and need to rest but can't sleep. This is not meant for every night use!
Babies 0-6 months: Usually babies in this age group will still be waking up. But if in need of calming, hydrosols are the best option. I don't generally recommend essential oils with this age group. These babies are very small and they only need a gentle nudge to restore balance. Some ideas are:
- Spraying Lavender or Roman Chamomile hydrosol on their crib sheet
- Spritzing Lavender or Roman Chamomile hydrosol in their nursery
- Spritzing yourself with Lavender or Roman Chamomile hydrosol and cuddling with your baby
Kids 6 months-2 years: Gentle diffusing can be used with the age group. This entails 1-2 drops of essential oil in an ultrasonic diffuser (one that uses water) for 15 minutes. I usually recommend to run the diffuser 15 minutes before bedtime and turn it off when putting the child in the crib. Some good essential oils to use are:
- Roman Chamomile
- Green Mandarin
- Sweet Orange
Another idea is a hydrosol bath. Use 1/4 teaspoon hydrosol in a full bathtub. Stick with Lavender, or Roman Chamomile hydrosols for this age group. Or spray some diluted hydrosol on the backs of their necks to help calm and soothe them.
Kids 2 years and older: Diffusion or topical use (at a 0.5-1% dilution) can be used. I personally don't like topical use for sleep issues but if inhalation isn't cutting it, then topical application is an option. With kids, I like to use the most gentle approach first and assess the situation from there. In addition to the essential oils named in the previous age group, here are some more essential oils you can try (not an extensive list):
- Sweet Marjoram
The essential oils I have mentioned in this post are generally seen as central nervous system sedatives. There are many more but these are the ones I have found that children find most appealing. Have your child smell the essential oil before using to see their reaction. If the child doesn't enjoy the aroma, then it definitely won't be calming and comforting to them. Also, sometimes calming oils may have an opposite effect on some children and can be energizing. We definitely don't want that!
One of my favorite things about being a mom and aromatherapist is knowing that I can help my own family when they need it. I relish in the fact that when my kids are sick and having trouble sleeping, I can use my "magic oils" or "magic sprays" to help soothe, calm, and comfort them. I can address their issues using my beloved botanicals. Aromatherapy can be a wonderful modality to use with children when done safely and effectively.
One final thought...