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Winning the bedtime battle

Usually, there's nothing more snore-inducing than a report packed full of numbers. But the statistics in the National Sleep Foundation's children's sleep survey are eye-openers: On average, American kids get about an hour less shut-eye a day than recommended by sleep experts. And the result is more than just a growing population of cranky, whiny kids. Sleep deprivation has created a vicious cycle in which children are so overtired that they have difficulty falling asleep at night, according to the NSF.

“We need to focus as much on the sleeping half of children's lives as we do on the waking half,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., chairwoman of the poll task force for the NSF survey. Natural foods retailers, already a trusted resource for everything from strained organic carrots to sustainable diapers, are in a unique position to help parents with their children's nighttime needs as well. Here are some kids' sleep tips from experts, along with safe sleep products, that can help make your customers' dreams come true. Check out even more expert advice exclusively at

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First of all, it's important to know how much sleep kids need. Infants require 14 to 15 hours of sleep a day; toddlers, 12 to 14 hours; preschoolers, 11 to 13 hours; elementary school-age kids, 10 to 11 hours; and teenagers, eight to nine hours.

Another important factor is sleep hygiene, or basic common-sense principles of good sleep, such as:

  • Avoid heavy meals within two to three hours of bedtime.
  • Nix the caffeine, particularly after 4 p.m.
  • If you know your child gets up during the night to go to the bathroom, limit all liquids after dinner. —Dr. Judith Owens
    associate professor of pediatrics
    Alpert Medical School at Brown University
    —Marlene Huff, Ph.D.
    associate professor, department of pediatrics
    University of Kentucky

    It's important to find out the cause of a child's sleeplessness—hyperactivity, bad dreams, frequent urination, infection, etc.—before you decide which supplements to use. Many times it's that children are overtired and can't settle themselves down, or they are just overcranky. In that case, I like to give the child a bath containing a couple drops of lavender essential oil or a quart of chamomile or lavender tea added directly to the bathwater. Kids can also drink a cup of chamomile tea, which is calming and good for bad dreams, at dinner, or another soothing, fragrant tea like lemon balm or linden. Make sure to steep the tea 25 to 30 minutes to make it more medicinal.

    —Dale Bellisfield, R.N.

    One of the things we recommend is for children to have appropriate sleep behaviors. The idea is to get kids into the mindset of “this is the time to calm down; this is the time we go to sleep.” Parents need to maintain a consistent pattern so there is nothing chaotic or unfamiliar for children at bedtime.

    One to two hours before bed, start the bedtime routine, which could include taking a bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story, having a relaxing massage or cuddling with mom or dad. Quiet activities such as tabletop toys, reading, coloring or homework are OK. As the child grows older, prompts like “another half hour and it will be time for bed” may be all that's needed.

    —Dr. Pio Andreotti
    clinical supervisor
    Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn
    —Marlene Huff, Ph.D.

    Many natural adult sleep remedies are not recommended for children because they contain melatonin, which can affect kids' hormone levels, says herbalist Dale Bellisfield, R.N. Here are some products that are safe for kids.

    Kid's Formula Calm
    Natural Vitality, based in Burbank, Calif.
    Active ingredients: Magnesium, vitamin C and zinc

    How it works: About 80 percent of children and adults are magnesium-deficient, which can cause sleep problems due to muscle tension, spasms and cramps; headaches; anxiety; and nervousness.

    Animal Parade Warm Milk Chewables
    Nature's Plus, based in Melville, N.Y.

    Active ingredients: Casein decapeptides (milk protein), magnesium

    How it works: Decapeptides are responsible for milk's calming, sleep-promoting characteristics. But not all forms of milk have the correct sleep-inducing proteins, and heating milk to the wrong temperature may wreak havoc with the decapeptides. These chewables are designed to give a consistent level of active milk proteins.

    Liddell Laboratories, based in Moraga, Calif.

    Active ingredients: A homeopathic spray containing oats, chamomile, hops, passion flower, unroasted coffee, valerian, lady's slipper, columbine, sodium chloride, potassium phosphate, St. John's wort and lemon balm

    How it works: Alleviates exhaustion, nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, muscular spasms, hysteria and nightmares. Dosages vary based on age; consult a health-care professional for children younger than 2.

    Rescue Sleep
    Bach Flower Remedies, based in Los Angeles

    Active ingredients: A homeopathic remedy that contains the same ingredients as Rescue Remedy—impatiens, star of Bethlehem, rock rose, cherry plum and clematis—plus white chestnut.

    How it works: Eases restless mind and alleviates trauma, shock, irritability, tension and panic. Effective for all ages.

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