Do Sleep Patches For Kids Work? Sleep Experts Weigh In

Parents are frantically Googling whether they work, so we've gone straight to the experts.
tolgart via Getty Images

If you’re a parent who’s active on social media, chances are you’ll have been targeted by those ‘sleep patches for kids’ adverts at some point or another.

You might have even purchased some in the hope they’ll help your child nod off easier. Hey, no judgment here – we’ll try pretty much anything to get our kids to get some shut-eye too.

There are a variety of patches on the market, and the basic premise is that they release a blend of natural essential oils – lavender being a key one – to help children drift off easier.

They are appealing to parents because they don’t have to be ingested. Rather, you simply stick them on your child’s pyjamas or their skin (depending on the type of patch you buy) and, theoretically, they should help your child sleep better.

It’s unsurprising then that Google searches for whether these sleep patches actually work are through the roof. Even as I’m writing this piece, a post from a mum has popped up on Peanut – the social networking site for parents – asking whether sleep promoting stickers and patches work and are worth it.

“We used them for night weaning and [they] technically worked,” said one mum. “But quite honestly it was the story that worked and she believed the magic of the stickers helping her to sleep instead of boobs. She soon forgot about needing the stickers!”

So, what do the sleep experts think?

We asked four sleep experts what they think of sleep patch products for kids – and whether, theoretically, they would help children (aka, the anti-kip cohort) sleep better.

In some ways, the science helps back these patches up. A review of studies on the effect of inhaled essential oils found, overall, they had a positive effect on people’s sleep. And lavender was the most frequently studied essential oil.

Emily Whalley, a holistic sleep coach at Fox and The Moon Sleep, tells HuffPost UK that essential oils can be “an excellent way” to calm down before bed, as they are “relaxing, de-stressing and have many other uses and qualities”.

“Would I recommend essential oils to help a baby or child relax at bedtime? Yes, maybe as part of a pre-bed massage or in their bath. But to claim they will cure all sleep difficulties just isn’t fair to say to desperate parents because that just isn’t possible,” she says.

While essential oils can help us feel sleepy and calm, “they cannot keep a child asleep if there are reasons why those awakenings are happening,” she adds.

And this is the crux of the issue here – if your child routinely doesn’t sleep well, there are probably underlying reasons why this is happening. So it’s best to get to the root of the problem in order to help improve their sleep going forward.

Holistic sleep consultant Lucy Bagwell, from Second Star to the Right, says she is “dubious” of products like this. “Essential oils such as lavender are no new thing when it comes to sleep aids, however no one thing on its own can be a magic bullet for all little ones’ sleep,” she says.

She notes that there are a lot of reasons why a child might have disrupted sleep or experience bedtime battles, so the introduction of a sleep patch “is not going to touch the sides”.

“So whilst calm and predictable smells can be a positive addition to a bedtime routine, and something that I wouldn’t discourage, I wouldn’t want anyone to expect them to be a sure-fire route to consistent, undisturbed sleep,” she adds.

Sleep expert and neurophysiologist, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, notes that while such patches contain essential oils, “in my opinion, whether or not these oils are present in sufficient concentrations to induce restorative sleep is debatable.”

Are the patches useful at all?

Sleep physiologist Stephanie Romiszewski, from re:sleep, notes the patches are more of a tool for relaxation. And if your child already has a pretty good sleep pattern, they can be useful.

“It is true that relaxation can facilitate sleep but I think what’s really important to understand is that if a child has a sleep problem then the sleep patches are probably not going to have a significant impact on the sleep itself,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“If a child – or even an adult – has a sleep problem then what’s happened is, the drive to sleep is probably not very regulated.

“We build up a drive to sleep from the moment we wake up in the morning and if you don’t have a good drive to sleep ... so for example: you lie-in, or wake up times are very different on a week to weekend basis, or there’s a lot of broken sleep at night, no amount of these patches is going to fix a broken cycle.”

She suggests the patches are more of a “proactive tool” to help children wind down and relax rather than a “reactive tool” to tackle sleep problems.

“I think it’s important to mention that because most people looking at things like this are having issues with the child’s sleep rather than looking at it as: what can we do to benefit sleep,” she adds.

So, what can help kids sleep better?

Don’t get us wrong, if you want to try the sleep patches – by all means do. There are plenty of positive reviews out there from parents who swear by them.

As Emily Whalley says: “Essentially they will be good to help children relax and does that mean they will relax enough to fall asleep? Yes, maybe!”

But her concern is they’re sold as a “magic fix” and children with real sleep struggles – like snoring, sleep disorder breathing, low iron, separation anxiety – are not going to get a good night’s sleep because of them.

“By all means, give them a go if your little one is struggling to relax at bedtime or you want to introduce something that smells comforting to them at bedtime, but please do not expect miracles!” she warns.

If you’re after other ways to help your child sleep better, Dr Ramlakhan recommends “encouraging good nutrition, hydration and levels of activity during the day, which are then followed by a good wind down routine and time away from electronics”.

For Romiszewski, the priority for parents should be to help their kids get up at the same time each day (even on weekends) and keep this as consistent as possible.

Getting plenty of light in the morning can also be beneficial, as can reducing exposure to light in the last third of the day – the sleep expert recommends you can mimic the sunset using soft, orange-hued lamps.