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Helping Kids With Insomnia: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Sleep by Driki on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Driki on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sleep by Driki on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician with health tips for kids about: insomnia.

When kids have insomnia, they and the adults around them, really suffer. Insomnia, spelled I-N-S-O-M-N-I-A, means the inability to sleep. Instead of sleeping you lie there awake, or you go wake up your parents to tell them you can’t sleep. Insomnia can happen right when you first go to bed or in the middle of the night when you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep.

Lots of kids have insomnia, for lots of different reasons. You can have insomnia when you don’t feel well – when you have a sore throat or your stomach hurts. It can come when you have bad dreams or if you are afraid of the dark. You can also have insomnia if you’re stressed, like before a test or if you are going to do something hard or different or even exciting the next day. Both good stress and bad stress can create insomnia.

Obviously, kids can’t take sleeping pills, or at least not unless they have a really serious problem. But kids can safely do natural medicine, things like foods, herbs, and special, safe ways to get good sleep. Here are some of my favorite tips:

Be thoughtful about the foods you eat just before bed. Instead of sweets or snack foods like chips and nuts, have fruit. Fruit is easy for the body to digest so your stomach won’t get upset and keep you awake. And fruit does not make the brain busy the way other foods can do.

Have a cup of chamomile, lemon balm and passion flower tea before you go to sleep. These herbs can make you sleepy and help you have fewer nightmares. Your parents can buy them at the grocery store. If you don’t like tea, your Mom or Dad can get a liquid tincture of these same herbs. You put it in water or juice. An adult can look at the label and decide how much of the tincture you should use.

Another way to get good sleep is to go to bed at the same time every night. If you do that, your body gets into a regular rhythm and it knows what to do, without you even thinking about it.

Flashlights can be helpful, especially for kids who think there might be monsters in their room. Monster fear can make going to sleep or waking up in the night kind of scary. Keep a little flashlight on a table next to your bed. Use it to check under the bed and in the closet before you go to sleep; you can also shine it around your room if you wake up scared in the middle of the night.

Another fun treatment is to ask your parents if they will put a moist, hot towel on your back and neck before you go to sleep. It’s soothing and relaxing. If your parents cover the wet towel with a dry one, the warmth will last longer. They should leave the warm towel on for 20 minutes, unless you fall asleep before that.

My final tip is to sing a lullaby – a gentle song - right before you go to sleep. The library has lots of books with lullabies; find a few favorites you can quietly sing every night. Don’t worry if your parents fall asleep while they are singing a lullaby with you. Lullabies help both children and adults conquer insomnia. I hope my tips help you have easy, peaceful, and long-lasting sleep.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.

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