September 6, 2013 | Posted in Mind / Mood, Pediatrics

Bedtime is longed-for by busy adults, and creatively battled against by children.

The hours of sleep before midnight are more restorative than the hours after midnight.  For an adult, eight hours sleep beginning at 9 pm is more valuable than eight hours beginning at midnight.  The younger the child, the earlier the bedtime.  A well-slept child generally will awaken spontaneously and be happy.


Today’s children with high-sugar and -chemical food intakes and lack of exercise often have sensory integration issues. ‘Excitotoxins’ is the name used to describe the chemicals in our environment and diet which interfere with normal nervous system function, including focused attention, and normal sleep.

Normal rhythms are difficult to find in the face of these artificial influences. See Polarity, rhythm.

The earliest gift that can be given a child is to allow him/her to go to sleep in his/her own bed at a regular bedtime. This creates a sense of security:  I am safe in the world by myself. It also gives the experience of touch, gravity, one’s own movement in space by being alone, entertaining oneself, being in bed alone.  A child who always has the same person putting him/her to bed at night, may think that sleep is not safe or possible without that person.  The family bed can be helpful early on, or during illness, when close observation is required. But a child grows up more secure if more than one person (not just Mom) can put him/her to sleep at night, and if he/she can begin the night alone in bed. It’s not difficult to see the message we give if from early on we repeatedly link bedtime with only one person, and if falling asleep at night requires sleeping in bed with an adult: ‘maybe Mom is the only one I’m safe with; maybe I can’t do it alone.’ Children take our acts as if they are decisions given by God, so we want to think about our habitual acts in order to build strength in the child, and a sense of security in life.

A standard bedtime hour according to age helps establish rhythm. Suggested times are: children under 11 yr old should be asleep by 8 pm; 11 yr old may be up to 8:30 pm.  The total number hours of sleep is sometimes considered a more important guide than the bedtime hour itself. In 6th grade, the average need is 10 hr of sleep. By high school, the average adolescent needs 9 hr and 15 minutes of sleep.  The teenagers’ biological clocks are shifted to later waking and later rising.  This is usually in direct contrast to high school starting times which unfortunately are earlier than grade school starting time.

The bedtime ritual is wonderful to begin with very young children, as a habit of letting go develops, leading to sound sleep, and being secure enough to sleep alone. The ritual can include a bath, story, tuck-in, a prayer, and a kiss with a calm statement such as  ‘Sleep tight. I love you. See you in the morning.’ The young child’s ritualistic approach to life is hierarchical by nature, with Mommy and Daddy all-powerful in his/her young eyes. The natural order of the world at this age can readily include God or the Higher Power and Angels or Guardians. This awareness is of value to the child’s sense of order and security in the world. Later, when the nine-year-change comes, and a child senses deeply his/her separateness from his/her parents, the early images of God and higher beings protecting and guiding one’s daily actions and sleep can be reassuring in facing this first big realization of separateness.

Every stage of sleep brings a different form of memory (learning) consolidation. To learn optimally, one must sleep.  See Sleep.
Human growth hormone is secreted at night. A child who admires an adult or older sibling can want to go to bed knowing ‘I grow in my sleep!’

The artful parent uses inner resources of creativity and patience, to make bedtime a welcomed experience for the child.

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A light supper, with little protein or completely vegetarian, helps sleep come easily.  Carbohydrates are sleepy foods, while protein, fat, salt, and caffeine tend to wake us up.  The next day we will wake up with an appetite for breakfast, the foundation meal of the day’s activities, so it’s best not to overload at night. Time-honored warm milk is a fine sleep-inducer.   See Breakfast.

A wound-up child is helped to settle at bedtime when gently but firmly wrapped in a cotton blanket from legs to waist, up to or including the arms.  Wrapping up for story time can be done as a game, such as being a butterfly in a cocoon, or being a burrito, in order to be very still to hear every word.  The child ideally would sit or lie down during the story, in the presence of the adult, but not on the lap. Undo the wrapping without rolling, as this is a stimulus.

No nightlights, please. Keep a hallway light on until the child is asleep, then turn it off. A blackout curtain on the window can be a great help in certain seasons.

If the child is very difficult to arouse or repeatedly grumpy, the bedtime should be nudged earlier until a better morning experience is seen. If the child has ANY kind of behavior problem, the simplest place to start solving the problem is to give the child an extra hour or two of sleep at night. The parents will benefit also from an extra hour.

Waves of sleepiness normally occur. When the first wave of sleepiness occurs in the evening, catch it; be ready for bedtime. For example, if the child has a wave of sleepiness occurring 15 min after dinner, be ready for it. Put on pajamas, and have the bath before dinner. Start the story, and talk about the day. Keep these patterns leading up to sleep very regular, almost ritual-like. Avoid the second wind of energy, which occurs when the first wave of sleepiness is missed, and postpones the likelihood of easily getting to sleep.

Create an experience of warmth and goodness: lavender oil in the bath, or on the pj’s, or as light massage downward on arms and legs.  This creates relaxation. A hot water bottle in the bed, or at the tummy or feet, is soothing. The child’s sense of life is fed: Life is good. I am warm.   Lavender oil as massage, or fragrance on bedclothing, or as warm bath as part of bedtime ritual, is very helpful for those children and adults who tend to be alert at bedtime.

High quality lavender oil is available from Avena Botanicals, as well as from True Botanica (Lavender Spruce) and from Uriel Pharmacy (Lavender Body oil) and Weleda Pharmacy (Lavender Relaxing Body oil).  Lavender oil as massage, or fragrance on bedclothing, or as warm bath as part of bedtime ritual, is very helpful for those children who tend to be alert at bedtime.

Almost all children are born with some tendency to one-sidedness, and our task as parents is to help them find balance. The rhythm of the day shows whether it is hard for our youngster to settle down, or hard to get up and move about, and we can help bring about comfort with both transitions.
Should a child have difficulty waking up in the morning, even after enough hours of sleep, rosemary lotion  (Weleda Pharmacy) in cool water is an invigorating fragrance and can be applied to the face (forehead, then cheeks) carefully with a damp cloth to bring alertness. A positive statement about the day ahead is an important medicine in this treatment: ‘good morning! what has that robin done outside your window since yesterday? I have a wonderful breakfast ready for you! rise and shine! what a wonderful day it is!’

The ‘Watchman on the Bridge’ is a technique used at the bedtime hour to invite spiritual help for child with a problem. The parent creates a clear picture of the child, asking out of his/her most selfless place the question that is a concern, and inviting the parent’s angel and the child’s angel to meet as they cross the bridge of sleep. Sometimes problems are solved without a single word or outer action, simply with this clear, selfless request, open to the help of the spiritual worlds.

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Working with Anxious, Nervous and Depressed Children: A spiritual perspective to guide parents, Kohler, Henning, Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2001, pp. 7-9 ‘Watchman on the Bridge.’

Avena Botanicals +1 866 AT AVENA (282-8362) (in USA) +207 594 0694 (outside USA)

True Botanica +1 800 315 TRUE (8783) (in USA)  +1 262 912 0970 (outside USA)

Uriel Pharmacy +1 866 642 2858 (in USA)  +1 262 642 2858 (outside USA)

Weleda  +1 800 241  1030 (in USA and to obtain contact info outside USA)

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