Do your kids have a ton of excuses for why they can’t get to sleep at night? It may be because their circadian rhythm, or their sleep clock, isn’t the same as their bedtime, new research from the University of Colorado, Boulder shows. It turns out that light may be to blame for this clock mismatch.
We get tired when our brain sends a surge of a hormone called melatonin, but that surge is delayed when we are surrounded by brightness from screens or sunlight. Typically, the melatonin surge happens around 7:40 p.m. for preschoolers. But if the melatonin levels rise closer to a child’s bedtime, they will have a harder time falling asleep.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that preschoolers get 11-12 hours of sleep daily, with part of that coming from a nap in the afternoon. Dr. Jyoti Krishna, a Cleveland Clinic pediatric sleep expert, says to watch for signs that your child is getting tired, such as eye-rubbing or yawning, and change their bedtime as they grow. “The melatonin onset and our body rhythms change. You can’t stick to what worked two years ago with this child, because this child is now a different child,” Krishna says.
Study author Monique LeBourgeois provides a few tips to establish your child’s sleep schedule, which starts with making sure the room is dark when your child goes to bed. This also means no technology, such as iPads or TV’s, that give off light near bedtime. Don’t completely block out natural light, though, since morning sunlight helps to keep the sleep schedule on track. LeBourgeois’ simple advice: “Listen to your child’s physiology.”