Newborns can sleep up to 17 hours a day, but getting them to drift off can be tricky. A night-time routine is important to help calm and soothe your baby, ready for bed.
If you’re tired of spending your nights rocking and shushing, why not turn to other bedtime aids to help those little bodies relax?
Natural remedies such as herbs and essential oils are often included as ingredients in baby bath bubbles, lotions and creams in a bid to beat bedtime anxiety.
But is there any science to say that these night-time soothers really work?
We dig a little deeper into three commonly used ingredients so you can make informed choices, even in your sleep-deprived state.
Chamomile: The Science
This ancient medicinal herb has been used for centuries in numerous therapies and today more than 1 million cups of chamomile tea are drunk every day.
Despite the herb’s extensive propagation for a range of health problems—namely skin and sleep issues—chamomile cannot be classed as clinically therapeutic as there are too few scientific studies.
What science can tell us about it is all positive, though.
The dried flowers of the two chamomile variances (German and Roman) contain active molecules and compounds that are recommended for medicinal preparations.
The most significant are flavonoids (plant chemicals) and terpenoids (essential oils) which are widely recognized for their anti-inflammatory and sedative properties.
These work topically by penetrating below the skin surface into the deeper skin layers in order to treat issues such as eczema or wounds.
Chamomile and Sleep
The flavonoid apigenin is believed to have a sedative effect by binding to receptors in the brain, according to a review by Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
Despite the sparsity of evidence-based research, using chamomile as a sleep aid is still “common practice" ~ Laval University, Canada
Pharmacologists at Okayama University in Japan tested an oral extract of the herb on rats, who entered a period of “benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity” afterwards.
The study saw a “significant decrease” in the time it took sleep-disturbed rats to drift off. However, there was no difference in their total sleep time or sleep quality.
Avoid chamomile if your baby suffers from ragweed allergies, as it may induce symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and wheezing.
Although chamomile shows some promise for the treatment of sleep problems, the limited clinical studies on insomnia in adults display no real improvement.
Despite the sparsity of evidence-based research, using chamomile as a sleep aid is still “common practice”, according to psychology researchers from Canada’s Laval University.
One small Taiwanese study published in the Journal Of Advanced Nursing in 2015 did find improvements to sleep in postnatal women who drank chamomile tea daily—but only in the first four weeks after birth.
Chamomile for Little Ones
Despite the few studies related to infants, chamomile is frequently used in baby products and suggested for some specific health issues.
If your baby is suffering from colic, researchers from Boston’s Harvard Medical School in the U.S. recommend chamomile tea after a successful clinical trial.
In nearly 60% of babies aged 2 to 8 weeks old suffering from colic, symptoms disappeared after they were given chamomile tea after each bout, up to three times a day for a week, researchers found. (This does appear to go against current clinical advice that babies shouldn’t be given water, so please check with your medical professional first.)
The Canadian pediatric society also recommends herbal teas such as chamomile for children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) who struggle with sleep.
Due to its sedative and soothing properties, chamomile extract is often added to bath products, moisturizers and baby balms. This could also be because it’s a very gentle natural product and is generally well-tolerated by even sensitive skin.
For an ultra-relaxed and sleepy baby, try adding drops of chamomile oil to a bath or turning a baby massage with an infused moisturizer into part of your bedtime routine.
TIP: Researchers at Warwick University found massages on infants under six months lowered the levels of cortisol (stress) hormones in their bodies, helping them sleep better
Lavender: The Science
Lavender is a Medieval medicinal and cosmetic ingredient, that was historically used as a drug source as well as in perfumes, soaps and the like.
Recently science has been playing catch up to determine the efficacy of traditional lavender oil, with notable clinical studies highlighting the plant’s therapeutic benefits.
The University of Vienna documents the use of essential lavender oil in treating psychosomatic disorders, insomnia, and nervousness, as well as migraines, rheumatism and several skin disorders such as eczema and dermatitis.
Lavender and Sleep
Lavender’s sedative and relaxing effect comes from inhaling its fragrance molecules (via the amygdala and hippocampus portions of the brain that regulate emotions) as well as the penetration of its principal compounds linalool and linalyl acetate through the skin.
The Viennese study found it took just 20 minutes for these natural compounds to reach their peak in the blood after lavender oil was massaged onto the skin.
Lavender’s natural compound linalool may give the flower its signature fragrance, but in 2-7% of people it can also be an allergen, producing an eczema-like skin rash. Low-linalool lavender oils are available.
Multiple clinical trials—although small—show the positive effects of lavender on sleep.
A sleep trial at the University of Southampton in England tracked the sleep of 10 adults suffering from insomnia for two weeks.
Those who slept in a room diffused with lavender essential oil saw a marked improvement on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
A further study by psychologists at Wesleyan University’s sleep lab in Connecticut, U.S.A., saw some 30 adults inhale lavender for three nights while researchers monitored their sleep cycles.
Brain scans demonstrated an increase in slow-wave sleep (which is important for slowing your heart rate and relaxing your muscles), with subjects reporting a better night’s sleep.
The trial’s conclusion? Lavender, whether inhaled or applied topically, serves as a mild sedative and promotes deep sleep.
Lavender for Little Ones
Few studies focus on the effects of lavender on babies, but it’s a common ingredient in many baby products that are deemed safe to use by bodies such as the Environmental Working Group, EWG.
Aromatherapy is untested in young children, so you may wish to avoid direct inhalation of lavender vapors.
Supporting the body of adult research is one much-referenced study on infants by Miami researchers. They found that babies who bathed in lavender-infused bath oil smiled more, cried less and fell into a longer period of deep sleep afterwards.
As well as bath oils, you could also turn to a calming body rub or lotion infused with a low-linalool lavender oil and practice a soothing massage before bed.
As well as a tasty fruit and a trending milk drink, almonds have become known as a superfood for your skin.
Before the beauty industry caught on to the benefits of almonds, the Ancient Chinese, Ayurvedic and Greco-Persian schools of medicine were pounding the tree fruit and extracting its oil to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
Although no conclusive scientific research exists, we know enough about the almond to deduce certain benefits to our bodies.
Almond Oil’s Soothing Effects
There are two types of oil extracted from almonds: sweet and bitter.
Sweet almond oil is liquid gold. Rich in protein, vitamins and mineral oil, sweet almonds are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant effects (through vitamin E and A) on the skin.
It's commonly used in cosmetics as it’s deemed hypoallergenic—highly tolerable for all skin types.
Almond is a known allergen and so often baby products will simply use an ingredient that’s reminiscent of almond milk or oil to be classed as hypoallergenic.
It’s best to avoid bitter almond oil, which although reputed to have some antibacterial qualities, can be toxic so should be used only after advice from a medical professional.
Almonds for Little Ones
What could be better for soft baby skin than a gentle, enriching, vitamin-packed ingredient?
Because of its reputed therapeutic skin benefits, doctors in a hospital in Southwest France trialed sweet almond oil massages on its pre-term babies.
After 10 days of massage on infants born at 31-34 weeks, the babies demonstrated enhanced weight, improved neurological development and improved skin barrier function.
Sweet almond oil’s soothing qualities mean it’s frequently used as a base in everything from baby bath bubbles and body lotions to cleansers.
You’ll increasingly see almond milk as an ingredient at bath-time too, as its similar hydrating properties are soothing for baby’s skin.
Try adding a splash of an almond oil or milk-based product to your bedtime routine for skin that’s calmed and prepped for bed.
While your baby’s sleep may be elusive, be comforted by the knowledge that there are many things you can try to help you all get some rest.
If you’ve found something that works for you, please do share your tips with the rest of the June community below.