Bedtimes are a constant struggle for parents with young children. Sometimes it seems that the little ones’ internal clocks are reset daily. One night they fall asleep as soon as you put them down, the next they fuss and cry for two hours before closing their eyes.
A team at the University of Colorado is looking to shed some new light on this topic. Actually, their findings show that ‘less’ light may be the key to a more even sleeping schedule.
The research team, working under the leadership of lead scientist Monique LeBourgeois, studied the sleeping habits of 14 healthy toddlers to learn more about children’s circadian rhythms. They used wrist activity monitors to track the children’s sleeping patterns over the course of six days. They also used cotton swabs to monitor the levels of melatonin in each child. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps our bodies slow down at the end of the day.
They found that children who’s melatonin levels surged 30 minutes before bed, were far more likely to fall asleep when they were put to bed. Children who did not experience this surge, or received it later in the evening, were far more likely to remain restless once tucked in.
So now the question: How do we control the surge of melatonin?
Science has proven that melatonin levels are directly related to the amount of light the body receives. As light levels dip in the evening, levels rise.
The team from Colorado found that a progressive dimming of the house lights was an extremely effective way of controlling the hormone release in the children’s bodies. They also concluded, that allowing natural morning light was just as important for maintaining a proper sleep schedule.
Exposure to unnatural light from electronic sources like iPads, the television and laptops was strongly discouraged during the lead-up hours before bed.