4 Secrets to Adjusting Your Toddler’s Circadian Rhythm

Toddler BedtimeMost 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 a recent “Bedtime for Toddlers” study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, 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 Psychologist and Sleep Disorders Expert William David Brown, Ph.D., with Children’s Medical Center. “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,” says Dr. Brown.

Although it’s likely that people are genetically predisposed to be “night owls” or “morning people,” don’t despair, circadian rhythms can be changed.

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 televisions, 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.
William David Brown, Ph.D.

William David Brown, Ph.D.

Dr. William David Brown obtained his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The University of Texas Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He did post-graduate training in sleep medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Dr. Brown’s interests include the behavioral assessment and treatment of sleep disorders and circadian rhythm disturbances in pediatric patients.

For more information on the Sleep Disorders Center and multidisciplinary team at Children’s Medical Center, visit childrens.com/sleep-disorders-center.

 

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One Response to 4 Secrets to Adjusting Your Toddler’s Circadian Rhythm

  1. Anna Kaminsky February 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    It is true that toddler’s sleep patterns can be erratic — and possibly also related to how much they sleep during the day? If a toddler goes down for a nap at noon versus 4pm, that is going to have a big impact on what time he goes to bed for the night. Would be interesting to know what the optimal nap time is depending on wake time and bedtime, and also how to wind a toddler down for nap time, similar to how you describe bedtime in this article.

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