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Following on from the last blog post that discussed how important it is for children to get a good night’s sleep (especially during term time), we’re now taking a look at sleep problems in children and some simple solutions that should help.

Sleeping with night light

A 2013 study (Circadian Phase and Its Relationship to Nighttime Sleep in Toddlers) discovered that sleep problems in early childhood are linked to impaired cognitive function and emotional and behavioural problems in later life.  Moreover, parents of kids with sleep problems very often experience increased difficulty in their own sleep patterns creating a cycle of family fatigue that potentially leads to emotional discord.  This doesn’t exactly make for a happy family life which is what we parents strive for as we bring up our kids.

One of the biggest challenges we face at bedtime is to reduce sleep disturbance and sleep resistance.  For many children, sleep disturbance may include:

  • difficulty in falling asleep
  • bedtime resistance (with delaying tactics)
  • curtain calls (calling from bed, or getting out of bed for a variety of reasons, including asking for another story, needing the loo, wanting a glass of water or something to eat)

According to researchers, the bedtime you choose for your toddler may be out of sync with his/her internal chronobiological (body rhythms) clock and this can lead to difficulties in settling down to sleep.  The study showed that toddlers who are exposed to artificial bright light after sunset may develop a later rise time for melatonin making it more difficult for the child to wind down and fall asleep at bedtime.  With about 25% of toddlers and preschoolers experiencing problems settling at bedtime, this could be an important factor in getting a good night’s sleep.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and the melatonin signal forms part of the system that regulates the sleep-wake cycle by chemically causing drowsiness and lowering the body temperature.  Infant melatonin is regular from the age of about three months.  However, human melatonin production is inhibited by light to the retina and encouraged by darkness – the onset each evening is known as dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO).  Choosing a bedtime that corresponds with DLMO can help to ensure that a child is sleepy at bedtime.

Another tip that could help your child to be sleepy at bedtime is to dim the lights, to help ensure the production of the melatonin needed to promote sleepiness.  Working with the body’s natural rhythms can be an easier way of getting the kids ready for bed.  Try to add some dim light activity to your child’s bedtime routine.  This could be by dimming the lights in the living room while you read bedtime stories or enjoy some pre-bedtime cuddles – make sure the TV is off as the flickering screen may serve to counteract the dimmed lights.

Throughout mankind’s history, our bodies have evolved to synchronise with the rising and setting of the sun which means that the advent of artificial light (about 100 years ago) has messed up our body clocks by providing light at a time when our bodies should be winding down ready for sleep.

Before the 20th Century, sleeping, waking and working patterns were based on the available daylight.  Nowadays, our internal clocks are being thrown out of sync by the artificial light we use to go about our business during the evenings when the sun has gone down.  This has caused a huge rise in insomnia and sleep disorders and this is happening in children as well as in adults.  Modern life may just be too bright for some children to develop a healthy and natural sleeping pattern.  Calming down and dimming the lights at bedtime could be just the trick you need to overcome sleep problems in your little one.


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