Almost all the different physiological processes in our bodies are governed by a circadian rhythm including alertness, heart rate, mood, digestion, and sleep. Due to the earth revolving around the sun in a 24 hour period our circadian rhythms have adjusted to doing the same.
Our body clock is the system in our body which helps to regulate our sleep and wake timing which then governs our circadian rhythm. Doing the same thing every day helps to strengthen the rhythm, whereas erratic schedules weaken it.
What helps our circadian rhythm.
Light is the biggest stimulus for adjusting our body clock. When exposed to darkness our body starts to produce more melatonin, which is the chemical that encourages sleep. Alternatively, the chemical is decreased in the morning causing us to wake up.
Blue light alternatively negatively affects us and can shift our body clock by delaying the onset of sleep and reducing the quality of sleep overnight. This is why we suggest staying away from LEDs, TVs, smartphones, tablets, and incandescent bulbs. Everyone needs to be mindful of this, but it is especially important for kids because they are extra sensitive to the effects of blue light.
How children’s circadian rhythms differ.
Children sleep differently to adults. They tend to have a lot of deep sleep in the first few hours of the night. This is why you might notice that you can just about overturn their bedroom and they won’t wake! In the second half of the night they experience more REM sleep and light non-REM sleep, this is a time when they might wake more easily. You may hear them moving around more, making some noises but they will still go back to sleep.
Children have a lot of deep non-REM sleep in the first few hours after they fall asleep. That’s why children sleep so soundly in the first few hours after they’ve gone to bed and aren’t disturbed by anything.
As children get older their sleep cycles get longer. A baby’s sleep cycle tends to be about 45-50 minutes and by adulthood, they will be 90 minutes.
How you can encourage a healthy circadian rhythm.
- Exposure your child to light in the morning within the first few hours of wake up – go for a walk or a playground trip.
- Put blackout blinds in their room so that you can encourage melatonin production at bedtime.
- Stop all use of technology within 1.5 hours of bedtime.
- Have a consistent sleep schedule and routines surrounding sleep and waking up.
- Create a calming bedtime routine that cues your child into sleep time.