Most parents, at one time or another, have had a difficult time getting their toddler to go to bed. For some it’s a nightly struggle.
According to some research, part of the problem might be that bedtime is not in sync with your child’s natural rhythm cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm or internal body clock.
“Circadian rhythms allow us to stay awake during the day and to sleep at night,” says William David Brown, Ph.D., Psychologist and Sleep Disorders Expert at Children’s Health℠. “There's also a ‘forbidden zone,’ which is a time when sleep is almost impossible. If you’re putting your toddler to bed during that forbidden zone, she won’t be able to sleep.”
Although it’s likely that people are genetically predisposed to be “night owls” or “morning people,” don’t despair, circadian rhythms can be changed. Here are some simple tips to help.
Ways to Adjust Your Toddler's Sleep Cycle
1. Use morning light.
Bright light in the morning will help your toddler to wake earlier and go to bed earlier. Take your toddler outside in the mornings, or buy a "light box" and set it to turn on about 30 minutes before you want your child to wake up.
2. Avoid night light.
Blue light from electronics can keep children from sleeping, so it's best to turn off all television, computers or other electronic devices at least 90 minutes before bedtime. Also, use night lights or lamps instead of overhead lights.
3. Adjust bedtime incrementally.
If you're putting your toddler to sleep at seven and he's not going to sleep until nine, you're going to have problems. Start by delaying your child's bedtime to match his rhythm, then move it up 15 minutes at a time until you reach the desired bedtime.
4. Keep your child on a regular sleep schedule.
Sometimes parents let their toddler stay up late on weekends or during other periods of time off, in the hope that the child will sleep late in the morning. However, this isn't a good idea because your child's circadian rhythm may adjust to the later hours creating problems when you go back to their regular schedule.
The highly experienced sleep specialists at Children’s Health can help diagnose and treat children with all sleep disorders from birth to early adulthood. Learn more about our programs.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children’s Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.