How to help your family ease through seasonal time change with natural sleep remedies
I hate the time change, especially in the spring where it feels like that “lost” hour is never retrieved. For years, I spent the spring in Guatemala where the time does not change and it was much easier to just come back to Pacific Time than to do the seasonal readjustment. The fall one doesn’t feel as dramatic because by this time, I am so desperate for an extra hour that I am more willing to forgive the inconvenience for the brief illusion. The time change, however, does affect our bodies and our sleep and can be particularly dramatic for children.
The seasonal time change is correlated to a number of health effects: including a 10% increase in heart attacks for the two days after “springing” ahead to Daylight Savings Time and a ten percent decrease for the two days after “falling back” to Standard Time. There is also a correlation between the time change and road and pedestrian accidents: in particular, the increased darkness in the fall results in far more pedestrian deaths and the sleepiness in the spring in automobile accidents. And, as anyone who suffers from insomnia or has young children knows, it can be very difficult to readjust your rhythm to a new time change. Causing weeks of increased sleepiness and fatigue as our bodies try to adjust.
The most important thing to know is that sleep is integral to health. There is more and more research linking a lack of sleep directly to lower school and testing outcomes, poor memory, poor executive function and impulse control, increased depression, weight gain, obesity, and even degenerative diseases. A few things to read on sleep and the brain, sleep and behavioural problems in children, sleep and degenerative diseases in children, and sleep and obesity. It’s well worth helping your family ease through the disruption of the time change with natural remedies to help their sleep.
10 Natural Remedies for Helping Your Family Adjust to the Time Change
1. Sleep begets sleep: so go to sleep earlier.
Sleep researchers, particularly those who focus on children, such as Dr. Marc Weissbluth of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child fame say: sleep begets sleep. A child (and I find it is true with adults) who is overly tired when going to sleep, will sleep more poorly than one who is generally better rested. So, put yourself and your children to bed EARLIER (particularly in the spring).
2. Get off the screens.
Significantly reduce your child’s screen time especially during times of sleep transition and limit your own as well. No screens at all for the three hours before bed. (Okay, I know how hard that is but blue light is twice as disruptive to sleep as white light, so don’t let your kids use screens before bedtime and avoid them yourself during times of sleep transition or sleep difficulties, especially in the middle of the night.) The evidence between screen use and sleep disruptions for kids is pretty darn conclusive: the use of devices by kids equals reduced quality and quality of sleep and more daytime sleepiness. Red light is the least disruptive.
3. Darkness matters—all night long.
Make your family’s sleeping space completely dark by moving night lights into the bedrooms and hallways and closing doors, making use of black out blinds, and limiting exposure to CFLs and screens leading up to bedtime. Darkness and sleep aren’t the same. Each is important for its own reasons. An adult needs eight hours of darkness a night to maintain health. I haven’t been able to find how many hours of darkness a child needs, but I assume that just like they need more sleep they need more darkness. Less than that is equated with health issues, including a decrease in fertility, hormone issues, increase in obesity, higher risk of depression, cancer, and more. The pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin in response to darkness and uses it to direct all sorts of your body’s natural rhythms including sleep, appetite, and the onset of puberty. The hypothalamus, also located in the brain, regulates the hormonal system and is directly affected by melatonin. Also affected by melatonin are the ovaries and the testes. Regular darkness—eight hours every night—is important for both a woman’s fertility and for protecting the developing fetus according to a review of numerous studies on the issue published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Every time you turn on a light—even a very dim light or look at a screen— it turns down the production of melatonin according to the researchers. There may be a link between behavioural problems in newborns and exposure to excess light in pregnancy, perhaps even accounting for ADHD and autism behaviours according to animal studies. Studies have also suggested links between disruption of darkness at night and obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Further bad news suggests that blue light—like what comes from screens and those really obnoxiously bright CFL, LED, and incandescent bulbs—has twice the negative effect on melatonin and the circadian rhythms as other light.
4. Get more sunlight exposure during the day.
All that indoor light pollution that messes with our hormones, doesn’t add up to what we really need and that is the intensity of outdoor light. That light intensity is measured in lux units and the lux units around noon outdoors are around 100,000 while indoors it is between 100 and 2,000 lux units. All in all, we aren’t getting enough lux exposure during the early part of the day and we are getting way too much in the later part of the day (read above) and our bodies evolved over thousands of years to have it the other way. A half hour to an hour outside in the earlier part of the day is enough to put a person on track all day (when combined with limiting screens and artificial exposure in the night!) At the very least ensure if you are spending all day inside, that you have access to windows.
5. Set a predictable sleep rhythm.
That means a bed time, a wake time, and a pre-bed routine. I don’t like to use alarms, so this rhythm can be somewhat loose, but the gist is that sleep is a rhythmic activity and the more you keep things consistent day to day the better you will all sleep. As well, there seems to be sleep windows, when it is easier to fall asleep and when our sleep is more restful. Dr. Marc Weissbluth talks a lot about these sleep windows for babies and children—for nap times and bedtime—but, roughly, the bed time sleep window for children is 6 to 8 p.m. The sleep window for adults seems to be more varied, between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m., but sleep that happens in the early hours of the morning is more REM-heavy and thus lighter and that reduction in deep, restorative sleep can leave a person less rested and more groggy.
6. Take Magnesium before bed and give it to your kids too.
Almost all humans are deficient in magnesium because this mineral is no longer as abundant in the soil as it used to be and we need replenished daily. Magnesium is an extremely important mineral that can help with the enzymes that support neurological function, muscle contractions, metabolism, and the formation of bones. It can also help calm you by decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol and relaxing muscles. I recommend taking a supplement or using a spray. I give my kids Calm a drinkable magnesium supplement and spray a little magnesium oil on them at night. (At first magnesium oil stings, but after a few days that goes away.) By the way, the Green Mama Green Beauty Zine includes a recipe for making your own magnesium oil.
7. Take Vitamin D or, even better, take Vitamin D-rich cod liver oil.
Vitamin D is gotten naturally from the sun and from the diet, but few people are able to get enough of it from either these days. Vitamin D helps fight infections and inflammation, promotes healthy metabolism, reproduction, and sleep and Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with poor sleep. Cod liver oil or other fish oils are an easily absorbed form of Vitamin D and there is significant research connecting fish oil supplementation with lower risks of depression and smarter offspring (in pregnant women). It is also possible to supplement with straight Vitamin D3. This is my favourite cod liver oil and my kids even like it.
8. Make a sleep tea or buy an herbal tincture with Chamomile, Lemon balm, Valerian, Fennel, and/or Catnip.
All of these herbs are very gentle and when prepared as a tea can be a gently support to a child or an adult. Here is a blog by an herbalist to help you make your own Sleepy Tea. or you can buy a calming tincture for kids that’s alcohol-free. I have used Super Calm by Herbs for Kids many times and I feel it works wonders.
9. Try homeopathy.
Homeopathy is extremely gentle and virtually without side effects. There are a number of homeopathic blends for sleep such as Hyland’s Sleep or Calm Forte for Kids or see if you can find a remedy that seems like it might work for you by talking with a homeopath or check out this site to find your own homeopath remedy to naturally help you sleep.
10. Try Melatonin for yourself or your older children.
If I am traveling across time zones or struggling a lot with a sleep transition, I use Melatonin. There isn’t enough long term research to convince me that Melatonin is safe in children for routine use, but there have been numerous studies done that show it is safe to use in children over age 3. Melatonin is an over the counter sythentic version of the naturally occurring hormone Melatonin which helps regulate our circadian clocks and control our sleep/wake cycles. It is released in the evening and is stimulated by the dark (read above). All in all, if you aren’t doing everything above, it seems unwise to jump straight to Melatonin which is the “heavy hitter” of natural sleep remedies, but I find that combined with the above strategies it can work wonders in the whole family to help us through major time changes (we travel oversees fairly often) and help with particularly difficult time changes (like in the spring). In these cases, I usually use it for a week and by the end I use a dose less than half what is recommended. The thing about Melatonin, is that its nothing like a sleeping pill—it just helps sleep to be more restful and can help bring it on, thus we all wake up feeling more refreshed with it. The one I like is a spray by Source Naturals, it includes Vitamin B6 as well as the Melatonin and I have found that my kids both like the taste and it seems to have fewer side effects (some Melatonin seems to give me a headache, although that hasn’t happened with my children.)