Want to know more about sleep? Read on!
Circadian Rhythm, often called the ‘body clock’
We all have a sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm or body clock which is regulated by light and dark. The rhythms take time to develop in new-borns and it is very normal for infants and young children to wake regularly during the night. By about 6 months most babies have a regular sleep-wake cycle. Putting children to bed at the same time each night and waking them up at the same time each morning, even at weekends, will help to enable a regular sleep-wake cycle. When the hour changes from winter time to summer time some children’s sleep-wake cycle goes off track. A child’s sleep-wake cycle can be reset by bringing bedtime forward by 15 minutes every three nights until the desired time is reached.
Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in our body when it gets dark. It helps us sleep. It is a good idea to put your child to bed in a dark environment and dim lights in the run up to bedtime.
Melatonin production is negatively affected by screen activity, like watching a television/iPad or playing computer games. The light from the screen stops melatonin being produced. Avoiding these activities in the hour (or more) leading up to bedtime is a good idea to help the sleep cycle. Some children and those with autistic spectrum disorder may produce less melatonin.
Source: Sleep Health Foundation https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/how-blue-light-affects-kids-sleep
How much sleep is needed? Sleep duration
Sleep needs change as children get older and every human requires a different amount of sleep throughout their life. However, there is a recommended number of hours to aim for:
Research suggests that, in Western societies, many adults and some children and young people are under-sleeping by roughly one hour per night due to lifestyle changes. When accumulated over one week this adds up to a sleep deficit of about one full night.
Source: Royal Society for Public Health (2016) Waking up to the Benefits of Sleep, University of Oxford
Sleep routines, sometimes called ‘sleep hygiene’
What happens in the day can effect sleep: exercise improves sleep onset (how long it takes to fall asleep). Diet during the day can affect sleep. Caffeine blocks the sleep-wake regulation.
The sleep environment needs to be safe, a comfortable temperature, with space to lie down, low level of noise, low light or darkness and a lack of distractions.
Routines can teach children to associate a sequence of events e.g. upstairs, bath, brush teeth, PJs, to bed, story time etc. with bedtime and sleep.