Tick-tock, tick-tock – did you know you have an internal clock? It’s called our “circadian rhythm” and it’s our body’s natural schedule of when to wake up, when to eat, and when to sleep. Our individual internal clocks can be reset or rescheduled throughout our lives, but for some of us (and during some periods of development) it can be a bit of a challenge. This is especially applicable to our children. So, some of us are night owls and some of us are early birds – and if you’re trying to put a night owl to bed too early, you might have some issues. Is your child’s internal clock causing bedtime battles?
A study from the University of Colorado, Boulder took a look at toddlers’ sleep and they confirmed that some children who have a hard time with bedtime every night might actually be going to bed too early for their internal clock. About two hours before we go to sleep each night, levels of a hormone called melatonin start to rise. These hormones tell your body that it’s time to slow down and ease into sleep.
The study found that most toddlers’ melatonin levels started rising at about 7:40 p.m., which was about 30 minutes before their parents put them to bed. These children then fell asleep about 30 minutes after laying down, which is normal. But, some of the children in the study had unique circadian rhythms, and their melatonin levels didn’t kick in until a little later. When those kids were put to bed before their melatonin had started to rise, they laid in bed for an hour before they fell asleep. This hour of not being able to sleep frustrates kids (as it would with you!) and can lead to your child having sleep issues in the future due to that nightly struggle.
What can you do if you think your child may have an internal clock that leans late?
- Watch for signs of sleepiness. Step back from your routine, ignore the clock, and simply watch for yawning or just generally looking sleepy. Observe your child both at night and around your usual daytime nap times. Maybe you’ll see that they just aren’t tired and you need to adjust things by 30 minutes. If they go to bed a half hour later, but fall asleep faster, you might ease a lot of frustration from everyone’s lives.
- Keep electronics away from kids long before bedtime. Artificial lights from screens can potentially reduce melatonin levels. Video games, tablets, and television should be turned off at least 30 minutes before you try to calm kids down for your bedtime routine.
- Dim the lights. Turning off bright lights sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to start winding down. Cloud b’s Tranquil Turtle is perfect for creating a calming atmosphere that your child will psychologically recognize as sleepy time.
- Remember that kids are constantly changing. The exact bedtime that worked perfectly a year ago might not today. Kids are changing and growing quickly, so finding a balance between flexibility to their needs while maintaining structure is the best route. It can definitely be a challenge, but just be mindful and trust your instincts.
Did this study make you re-think your child’s sleep cycles and needs? Just like how each of your children has a very different personality, they might also have different circadian rhythms telling them when they are tired.
What’s it like in your house? Are your kids night owls or early birds?