Children's Sleeping Problems

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Finding a good herbalist

The material written in this article is entirely suitable for a parent to work through with their child but if you need further help, or if you want to be sure of getting the best possible quality of the herbs that you will be using, there may be much benefit in finding a good herbalist. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

I also want to mention that this article has been adapted from an original page on the website on 'insomnia'. That article has a number of further perspectives and different approaches written from the perspective of treating an adult, and it's found here

Withania somnifera


'Can't Sleep'

The great majority of children sleep perfectly and plentifully. Everyone understands how important sleep and nearly all parents take a lot of care to make sure that their children get to bed in enough time to get the rest they need.

'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink'. Even if everything has been done right, no excess stimulation before bed, some kind of wind-down routine to set the stage and get prepared, there are some children who have a lot of trouble getting to sleep no matter what anyone does.

Fortunately, there are some safe herbal remedies nearly always help, along with a few strategies that have been well tried and tested too. Start with getting some help from Nature.

Get help from Nature

Anyone with any kind of chronic sleeping problem is wise to get some help from Nature and, crucially, this means not only getting the right herbs but also getting them at the right dosage.

Our ancestors worked with herbal medicines for countless thousands of years to find out what works, along with knowing how much is needed for it to work. This point is being emphasised because some people think that they have already tried herbal sleeping aids, but they took doses that were far lower than what we have always used historically.

Think of taking a quarter or an eighth of an aspirin to cure a headache and you will get the idea. Common commercial preparation of herbs might use as little as a quarter, or an eighth, of the amount that we would use in traditional herbal practice. This is partly due to economics, but it is also a lot to do with safety. If you give a small dose you are playing it safe. It is much less likely people will react badly to your product and the fact is that herbs are highly potent, especially when used in the kinds of doses we have learned to use over those millennia.

The following are some of the most important herbal sleeping aids. In practice we often use a combination of more than one at the same time. If you keep an open mind re trying different herbs, and you are careful to take a proper therapeutic dose of whatever it is you do try, then it is almost certain that you will get a positive response from at least one of these time-honoured remedies for sleep.

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)


Children's Sleeping Formula

Withania 50mls
Skullcap 40mls
Passionflower 40 mls
Hops 30mls
Licorice root 30mls
Peppermint 20mls

This makes 210mls which will easily fit into a 200ml amber pharm round bottle. The Licorice and Peppermint make it a lot easier to take and have their own nourishing, nerve-calming benefits.

Bear in mind that the doses I am recommending are based on the tinctures we make from organic dried herbs in our own clinic, so a different supplier of herbs might have a higher or lower effective dose range.

For a child between 3 and 5 I would use about 3 or 4 mls. For a child over 5 years old, I would go to 4 or 5 mls. For a child around 7 or 8 I would use about 5 or 6 mls and for a child over 10 I would use 7 or 8mls in a single dose. These are all high doses by any standards, but these medicines are extremely safe and if that is understood, then the only thing that matters is getting a good result, which a strong dose is much more likely to achieve.

That said, don't expect it to work like a 'knock-out'. The effects will be deeper and subtler. The time to gauge how well a herbal sleep formula is working is the next day by seeing how they are acting and feeling.

In nearly all cases it can be seen that, not only do the sleeping herbs help a child to get to sleep more easily but, crucially, they help the quality of the sleep to be deeper and more restful. This is the great strength of using herbs instead of drugs to help improve sleep. Working with the body, they don't give a drugged, artificial sleep but rather help the whole system to unwind and heal itself through a naturally induced state of deeper relaxation.

It is fine and normal to mix the herbs with a little water. I suggest not to make a fuss about taking the medicine. If you have explained what it is for and why it will help them then you have done your part. Leave it for them to take whenever they are ready. If they are struggling to sleep and haven't taken it then you will know what to tell them to do. Eventually they will work out for themselves that this medicine helps them, and it is much better for them to be in charge of taking it as soon as possible.

Note that, for especially bad cases I would also not hesitate to give a second dose, either later in the night if they are still struggling to get to sleep, or earlier in the evening if they need help winding down before bed. A double dose is usually only necessary for a short while, but it can be good to know you can safely give it.

You might have noticed that I missed out two herbs from my earlier list. I love Valerian and Kava, and use them freely and frequently for adults, but usually won't start with either of them for children unless their case is particularly bad. Even then, I am likely to pulse test* them with a few drops of each herb to both see how their body (i.e. their heart) responds to them as well as if they can possibly tolerate the taste of them, as both are very strong, and the Valerian is especially pungent.

* If you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

Humulus lupulus (Hops)


'Relaxing Tea

If it's possible to get the ingredients. I can also highly recommend the regular use of our Relaxing tea formula. Not necessary to only take in the evening, it can be used any time to help a child feel more grounded and relaxed in general.


Skullcap 25gms
Lemon Balm  25gms
Chamomile 25gms
Passionflower   15gms
Lavender flower 10gms

The above amounts make 100gms of herb, enough for at least several weeks of daily use. The proportions are given so that a person can make more or less according to their needs or from what is available.


The dosage to have a pronounced effect is to pour one large cup of freshly boiled water over 2-3 hpd tsps, or about 2.5 - 3 grams of the herbs. Cover and allow to steep for a good 10-12 minutes, then strain and drink. Adding some honey may be welcome.

The taste of this tea is very acceptable and there has been excellent feedback over the years of using it from people who say how much it helps them to unwind, relax and sleep better. It can be safely taken by anyone from any age as often as they need or want it.


Let the mind wander

If your child is too anxious, and the trouble sleeping is just a symptom of this, then there are a number of strategies and herbs that are highly likely to help written about in detail here

However, many children who have problems sleeping are not actually especially anxious, at least no more so than is quite normal for a child, but rather they just have really busy and active minds and, when they lie down to go to sleep, they are too busy imagining, fantasising, remembering and generally thinking to feel even remotely sleepy! There is nothing inherently wrong with this and it is always best to work with Nature rather than against it so, if this is the case, you need to teach your child how it is safe, fun and good to let their minds wander.

I highly recommend story-telling and, when they are old enough, story-reading before bed. All cultures do this, and it is a practice that has evolved with humanity for good reason. It allows the mind to wander in ways that it could not do whilst keeping abreast of the day's demands and this 'wandering', imagining, fantasising etc. is not just fun, it is also very relaxing. We are able to put down our instinctive 'vigilance' when we become engrossed in the story of some other time or land or character. We lose our self-conscious centre, and a very good thing that is too, for not only does it give us a healthy perspective where we are not the only hero in the story, but it helps us release the bonds of consciousness that hold us in a waking state.

If you who are reading this would like to observe for yourself, how the process of your going to sleep is one in which your mind starts to wander and free associate into all kinds of random places before you are somewhat mysteriously unconscious, without knowing where the last step between thinking and dreaming and sleeping was taken.

This is Nature in action. For a child who is overly active in their minds and imagination to sleep, rather than fight against it, encourage them to think, imagine, roam far and wide in their minds. If they know that it is ok, and healthy, then they won't worry about it. It is the worry about not sleeping that stops a person, of any age, actually getting to sleep more than anything. If they know that, so long as they lie quietly and don't talk, that they are allowed to think and imagine as much as they like and for as long as they like, on absolutely any subject whatsoever, then they will soon loosen the bonds of consciousness, and sleep.

This last point can be an important one. Some children become afraid of the dark imaginings of their own minds. Yet every old fairy tale has the grimmest characters doing the most heinous things. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. If you, as the parent, can shrug it off and even encourage them to go as far as they want to in their fantasies, they will soon learn that nothing they are thinking about can actually harm them and, not only will you have helped them to learn how to get to sleep, you will also have probably done a great deal to help them not suffer unduly from anxiety in their later lives.

Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd