Do Kids’ Sleep Products Really Work?
From the moment your child is born, all you want is for your kid to just sleep. Not only do you desperately need some peace and quiet, but you also know that adequate sleep is key to your child's growth and development.
So you do your research and ask other parents how they managed to get their kids to sleep—and you discover that there are a countless number of products designed to help babies and young children get the shut-eye they need.
But just how effective are these products? Here's what you need to know.
Popular products to help your child sleep: Do they work?
The market is flooded with sleep products for babies and children. Some of them do have scientific research to back them up.
For babies, many parents try using white noise machines, like the “Sleep Sheep," which plays everything from ocean waves to the sound of a heartbeat. A small British study found that white noise helped newborns fall asleep within five minutes of being exposed.
Blackout curtains are also a mainstay on baby registries. Babies need dark to sleep—and according to the National Sleep Foundation, blackout curtains are best for blocking out light. You can also attach blackout curtain liners to your drapery if you already have curtains in your baby's nursery.
And let's not forget the perennially popular pacifier, designed to be a substitute in many ways for the loving arms of a parent or bottle or breast from mom. According to the Mayo Clinic, pacifiers can help your baby fall asleep if they have trouble drifting off—and they also have the potential to calm a fussy baby.
For young children, parents may seek out essential oil diffusers, starlit projectors that make constellations appear on the ceiling of the room, or night lights that play music. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, aromatherapy can benefit children, with four essential oils determined to be safe and effective for kids over five years old: lavender, peppermint, orange, and ginger. Lavender, in particular, can be calming to anxious children.
Being exposed to light before bed, on the other hand, is not so great for your child's circadian rhythm, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Physiological Reports. Judith Owens, MD, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, tells the New York Times that for parents who want to use night lights, he recommends placing them low near the floor so that the light isn't directly shining in a child's eyes.
Another two common products often used to help assist kids with sleep are meditation tapes and weighted blankets. A Vox report analyzed the research out there on the effects of meditation and children and found that relatively few studies actually show mindfulness decreases anxiety in kids. That said, some of the studies Vox looked at did show that mindfulness could be an effective stress reliever for kids in tough situations.
As for weighted blankets, Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, pediatric sleep psychologist and author of Become Your Child's Sleep Coach: The Bedtime Doctor's 5-Step Guide, Ages 3-10, says there is no clear-cut research to state how effective they are at soothing anxious children and improving their sleep. Plus, they can be hot, heavy, and hard to travel with, especially on an airplane. As an alternative to a weighted blanket, Schneeberg says you can try a stretchy spandex bed wrap, which is lighter and easier to transport and wash.
The thing to keep in mind with any of these products is that they could become sleep crutches. “A sleep crutch—also called a sleep prop or a sleep-onset association—is something a child has learned to need in order to fall asleep," says Schneeberg.
While sleep crutches aren't necessarily a problem, they could become an issue if your child must have the help of an item to fall asleep. That's why Schneeberg suggests the "summer camp" rule: Avoid having your children relying on products for sleep that you wouldn't want your kiddos to take on the road. (It's a pretty safe bet to say you wouldn't pack blackout curtains in your child's suitcase, would you?)
Schneeberg also says there are two tried-and-true tips you can follow to ensure your little one catches the Z's they need for their health and development:
- Avoid electronics before bed for older kids who may use tablets or smartphones. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can make it harder to fall asleep since it inhibits the release of melatonin.
- Stick to simple basics that won't mean lugging around assorted objects for the rest of your child's life. A comfortable mattress and pillow, reading light so your child can enjoy a book before bed (reading a printed book can help put your kids to sleep), and silent night light are all your child needs for a healthy night's sleep.
Our Best Mattress for Children
Is your child still having difficulty sleeping? Here's Schneeberg's five-step plan for getting your kid to sleep.