I was fortunate enough to attend and also present at the Mindful Parenting Symposium this past weekend in Bracebridge.  It was an amazing day filled with parents, children, midwives, doctors, authors, musicians, volunteers, local businesses and so much more.  The event was put on by FOMM (Friends of Muskoka Midwives), a non-profit group that aims to promote choice in childbirth and natural parenting.  If you missed the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for next year’s symposium.

A world-renowned parenting expert and author, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, spoknatural sleep remediese at the symposium and blew a lot of parents minds when she mentioned the average amount of sleep needed for optimal health….and optimal behaviour!  I love her catch phrase, “is your child misbehaving or missing sleep?” because it so true.  Sleep and good behaviour go hand-in-hand, and beyond that sleep is essential for a healthy immune system and for growth.   Here’s how much sleep we should all be getting:

Babies: 14-18 hours (including lots of naps)
Toddlers (18-36 months): 13-14 hours (including 1-2 naps)
Preschoolers: 11-12 hours (including 1 nap)
Kindergarteners: 11-12 hours
School age children: 10-11 hours
Adolescents: 9.25 hours
Adults: 8.25 hours

If you are one of the majority of people thinking that these numbers are definitely not being achieved by you or your children, read on for some natural tips on how to catch a few more zzz’s.

1. Have the room completely dark and cool.  Darkness helps to promote melatonin release, a natural sleep-inducing hormone produced by our bodies, while having the room cool works with your body’s natural inclination to cool off at night. Dr. Natasha Turner, ND, who recently appeared on Dr. Oz, promoted sleeping naked as a great way to enhance sleep and also keep your hormones balanced (note: this may not work for babies and small children as they often kick off their covers at night)

2.  Take all electronics out of the room and turn off wi-fi signals.  Electronics not only emit small amounts of light, they are also constantly searching for signals which put out EMR (electromagnetic radiation).  Like bright light, EMR disrupts melatonin release, and it also induces the “fight-or-flight syndrome” putting the body in a state of stress.  Children are even more sensitive to these signals than adults, so be sure to clear out all electronics and turn off your wi-fi signal before going to sleep.

3.  Exercise.  Getting enough physical activity during the day is amazingly helpful for getting a restful sleep.  Many times people are mentally tired, but physically wired and therefore your body prevents you from getting to sleep and/or staying asleep.  Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily (walking counts, so this is easily achievable).

4. Enjoy a night-cap (of TEA…I’m sure that’s what you were already thinking 😉  Herbal tea is a wonderful way to calm your mind and get your body ready for sleep.  Here are some herbs you should look for when choosing a night-time tea (these are all child and adult friendly; for children you can mix in a little juice or honey to sweeten the taste): chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm (especially if digestive upset is associated with the sleep concerns) and fennel.  Be sure to steep tea for 10 minutes covered for maximal medicinal effects.

5.  Learn to love lavender (bet you can’t say that 5 times fast!).  Lavender is a nervine (calming to nerves) agent that promotes a restful state of mind for sleep to naturally take place.  Putting a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase (or sheets) will go a long way (and if you’re worried about putting it on your sheets, alternatively you can dilute a few drops in a small amount of oil and rub it under your nose and on your chest).

If you try all of the above and still find you or your child are having trouble sleeping,  you may need to look deeper into the problem; sleep disorders can be related to food sensitivities, thyroid or other hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue, acute or chronic stress, mineral deficiences or simply a lack of routine leading to hyperactiivty and being overtired (“tired but wired”).  Did you know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to two hours of rest…so make sure you are in bed at a good hour for more restful and rejuvinating sleep!

If you have any concerns about your sleep, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Happy sleeping 🙂

Alison Parsons, BSc, ND