News | Published January 22, 2014

Are your children’s biological clock telling them not to go to bed at their bedtime?

Sleep is one of the most frequent topics I get asked about during well-child visits in the Pediatrics office. Some children sleep well and some don’t. Either way, most parents have experienced a child that is struggling to sleep – whether he or she is asking for another story to be read, or continuously getting out of bed to go to the bathroom.

The reason? A new study by the University of Colorado Boulder found that the bedtime parents select for their child may be out-of-sync with their child’s internal biological clock. Everyone has a natural internal clock that regulates when our bodies are tired or alert.

The patterns of our biological clock vary with age. For most adults, the levels of melatonin – the hormone that controls sleep – typically spike about two hours before their bodies are ready for bed. In this new study, researchers found that, on average, young children’s melatonin spiked at 7:40 pm and it took about 40-60 minutes for the children to fall asleep. The time a child’s melatonin spikesvaries from child to child. But if a child’s melatonin spikes at 7:40 pm and his or her bedtime is 8:00 pm, then the child will most likely be restless for quite some time.

If you are having trouble getting your child to sleep, I think it is a great idea to think about these issues. You won’t be able to test the exact time your child’s melatonin surges, but you can take cues from his or her body language – when he or she yawns or rubs his or her eyes – to determine the best bedtime. Now, I’m not saying you should let your child stay up all night, but try to listen to your child’s biological clock so he or she can sleep better.

Other tips that may help include:

  • Dimming the lights in your house about an hour before your child’s bedtime.
  • Using blackout shades in your child’s bedroom to help ensure his or her sleep is not disturbed by the morning light.
  • Avoiding stimulating activities like using electronic games before bedtime.
  • Establishing a consistent, relaxing activitythat is performed before bedtime, such as reading a book.

If your child has trouble sleeping, it is not only very disruptive to the child, but also to your entire family.Talk to your child’s doctor if your child continues to have trouble sleeping.