Herbal Formula Helps Restless Children Relax

Healthnotes Newswire (October 12, 2006)—Children who are restless in the daytime and have trouble sleeping at night could benefit from an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm, new research suggests.

Some children are noticeably restless—their hands constantly move and they have trouble sitting still. Situations that require attention and discipline, such as school, are especially difficult for these children. Parents, teachers, and counselors are likely to label them “hyperactive.” Although this physical restlessness is often seen in children with attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), not all restless children have ADHD.

Sleep can also be challenging for restless children. Sleep disturbances such as trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night and sleepwalking affect an estimated 30% of children. Sedatives that might be used by adults with similar sleep disturbances can cause side effects such as daytime drowsiness and are not always safe for children.

A previous study found that a combination of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) was helpful in adults who had sleep problems (including insomnia) and did not cause side effects.

In a new study, published in Phytomedicine, 914 children between infancy and 12 years old with restlessness and sleep disorders were treated with a valerian–lemon balm combination for four weeks. Each herbal tablet contained 160 mg of valerian and 80 mg of lemon balm, and the amount used varied depending on age and symptom severity, up to a maximum of 2 tablets twice per day. A wide range of symptoms in addition to restlessness and sleep disturbance (dyssomnia) were considered, including physical weakness, rapid fatigability, lack of concentration, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, lack of appetite, excessive drowsiness, and listlessness or dejection.

Nearly 62% of the children experienced restlessness or dyssomnia every day at the beginning of the study, but after four weeks of treatment with the herbal combination only 12% of them had daily symptoms—a significant improvement in both of these major symptoms. The other symptoms also improved and no side effects from the treatment were noted.

“The subgroup analysis showed that children of all evaluated age groups could benefit from this treatment,” the authors noted. They added that research into herbal treatments for children is needed “due to the fact that synthetic psychotropic drugs bear a high risk of addiction or side effects.”

“The combination of valerian and lemon balm has a long tradition of use by herbalists to treat kids with restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, and anxiety, and I see them have good effects. I’ve also had good luck using these herbs for children who have trouble focusing due to attention deficit disorder, ADHD, or other reasons,” said Mary Bove, naturopathic doctor and author of An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants.

(Phytomedicine 2006;13:383–7)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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