Spring is here, hooray! Or maybe you’re not feeling the excitement? Have these longer days with more sunlight affected your child’s sleep routine? Not to worry, you’re not alone!
In the spring, as the days get longer, some children will not feel tired at the usual time. (This is true for most adults too!) This is because darkness is responsible for the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Since the evenings are lighter, your child’s brain may not be getting the signal that they should be winding down for sleep at the usual time. One way you can attempt to counter this is to keep lights low an hour before bedtime and reduce other stimulation by turning off screens, playing calming music and engaging in relaxing activities such as bathing or reading. You can also make an effort to get outside and get some sunshine in the morning. Researchers can’t yet confirm if the “later rise of melatonin in some toddlers can be pushed to an earlier time by restricting evening light or by increasing morning light”, but it’s worth a try! Some children do seem to respond well to these parent-led environmental changes.
Researcher Monique LeBourgeois states that her 2013 study shows that “a poor fit between bedtimes selected by the parents of toddlers and the rise in their evening melatonin production increases their likelihood of nighttime settling difficulties.”
“If your child is resisting bedtime or having problems falling asleep, it is likely he or she is not physiologically ready for sleep at that time." You are not alone, as 25% of young children have nighttime settling difficulties. Therefore, if your child doesn’t respond to your efforts to make them feel tired a little earlier in the evening, I suggest you avoid the bedtime battle altogether and adjust bedtime a little later (and their morning wake time, consequently, a little later as well), since “laying in bed awake for such a long time can lead to the association of bed with arousal, not sleep," she said. "This type of response may increase children's lifelong risk for insomnia over time." If you move bedtime later, you’ll likely avoid significant frustration for everyone and falling asleep will be much easier!
Your child may also be waking earlier! Most children are quite light-sensitive and, in the early morning hours, even the slightest bit of light entering the room could wake them. You’ll want to make sure that you have a dark room by using a blackout blind. The room needs to be TOTALLY dark. If there is light that seeps out the side of the blind (and most blinds do this), you need one or two more layers! A good combo is a pull-down blackout blind with pull-across hanging blinds in front. Another option is to purchase a travel blackout blind with suction cups and just add that behind your current blind. If you’re not worried about the look, an extra bed sheet or blanket you’ve got laying around can help block the light that’s seeping in around the edges of your blackout blind. You may be surprised that your child sleeps a little longer in the morning if not woken by the sun.
It is important to understand, however, that your child may need less sleep overall during the spring and summer months. Adults are the same way; we feel much more tired in the dark winter months and are energized by the sun in the spring and summer! So, even with some strategies in place for bedtime and mornings, if your child still doesn’t seem to need as much sleep as before, you can adjust their daytime sleep. If your child is close to dropping a nap, you could consider doing it during the spring and summer months. If your child is on one nap, you could shorten it. The goal would be to reduce their overall total sleep within a 24 hour period, starting with daytime sleep so that everyone gets the maximum amount of sleep at night!
The sunlight is here to stay, so take advantage of its benefits for helping to set the circadian rhythm! Get outside, early in the day if possible. The whole family will feel energized by the sun’s light and warmth and perhaps, after lots of fun in the sun, even feel more tired come evening time. And, as always, let me know if you need a hand. I’d be happy to address your family’s unique sleep challenges with you! Sweet dreams!
Monique K. LeBourgeois, Kenneth P. Wright, Hannah B. LeBourgeois, Oskar G. Jenni. Dissonance Between Parent-Selected Bedtimes and Young Children's Circadian Physiology Influences Nighttime Settling Difficulties. Mind, Brain, and Education, 2013; 7 (4): 234 DOI: 10.1111/mbe.12032
Science Daily: University of Colorado at Boulder. Bedtime for Toddlers: Timing is Everything. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131216155000.htm. Dec 16, 2013.