Is your little one struggling to fall asleep with out you? Are they waking multiple times a night? or sleeping less than 40 minutes at a time?

Did you know that your child has biological sleep needs?

Our biological sleep needs are the reason that rocking and feeding to sleep (among other things) stop working after newborn. These needs follow on as to how we as adults and babies fall asleep. Below is some common reasons to keep in mind and during your sleep journey.

Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms are best described as changes that occur to our bodies in a 24 hour cycle. These rhythms are affected by food, light, sleep and social interactions. These are called Zeitgebers (which are in a sense cues to the body) these help tell the body when it’s time for food, sleep etc. The Zeitgebers teach our bodies the differences between night feeds and using dim lights etc VS when its day and there is light, which brings with it social interactions.

Our circadian rhythms are controlled by the cortisol and melatonin hormones. The level of hormones naturally fluctuate throughout the 24 hour cycle. Cortisol is considered the ‘awake’ hormone VS melatonin which is the hormone responsible for helping us fall asleep.

As the circadian rhythm matures, things like having poor routines and sleep environments etc will have an negative effect on our sleep patterns . This is why we encourage positive sleep and awake rhythms throughout the day and night with the help on some sleep hygiene to encourage our cortisol and melatonin to be working when it is needed and help us know when it is day and night.

Melatonin is a hormone produced from our Pineal gland, this hormone is responsible for how we sleep. Babies at birth have melatonin produced from their mothers which starts to wear off around 3 weeks. This is when we see a baby start to become more alert and awake.

At around 8 weeks of age babies are able to start to produce melatonin themselves. This is when it is important for a parent to start healthy sleep hygiene habits like having a dark sleep environment from 3 weeks of age. 

Having a dark sleep environment allows the body to produce melatonin and therefore encourage sleep. This is because a dark environment is needed for the body to turn serotonin (hormone produced by light) into melatonin as light blocks melatonin production. 

*Newborns can sleep in the light for the first 3 weeks without it impacting on their melatonin levels.

Sleep hygiene and environment.
As you read above there are many biological factors that affect how a child sleeps. Sleep hygiene and the child’s sleep environment are important factors that have an ongoing effect on the child’s biological sleep needs. Sleep hygiene helps prevent a child from having ongoing disrupted sleep and behavioral problems. What affects sleep hygiene is:

  • Sleep duration night and day
  • Naps
  • Sleep consolidation
  • Sleep schedule, timing of sleep
  • Sleep regularity

Parents play an important role in shaping a child’s sleep hygiene. They can shape a child’s natural sleep rhythms and patterns into healthy sleep habits. Having healthy sleep habits prevent less crying in the long run. Sleep habits have an ongoing effect on a child’s behavior. Sleep environment is an environment in which a child falls asleep.

Sleep environment as mentioned before has an affect on a child’s circadian rhythms and melatonin production. Ways to improve a child’s sleep environment include:

  • Putting your child to sleep in a dark room during the day and at night to help encourage melatonin production.

    *Using blackout curtains or Gro anywhere blackout blinds helps to keep the room dark.

  • White noise can be useful for unsettled infants till around 4 months (although in some cases from 0-12 months of age).
    In newborns, white noise triggers the calming reflex and can allow the child to stop crying and focus on you and your settling techniques in needed. When using white noise it needs to be as loud as a vacuum this is particularly important when a baby is crying as it needs to be louder than the cries to help the child hear it and thus settle.
    White noise helps babies sleep longer and in a deeper sleep as they are less disturbed by other household noises including noisy siblings. Parents can wean the child from white noise after the age of 12 months and done simply by reducing the volume over a few weeks.
    *White noise products can be brought from a variety of baby shops, a radio on static or apps on a smartphone and the use of bluetooth speakers. Parents shouldn’t play sounds like whales, rainforests, oceans etc as this is not considered white noise.

  • Temperature plays an important role in allowing a child to sleep soundly. As a child sleeps their body temperature drops. At around 3am-5am is when a child’s body temperature is at its lowest. It is recommended that parents have the child’s room at approx 22 degrees heated and 24 cooled

  • A safe sleeping environment means that all potential dangers have been removed and the baby is sleeping in a safe place. The ideal place for a baby to sleep is in a safe cot, on a safe mattress, with safe bedding in a safe sleeping place, both night and day.

  • Unsafe settings for baby’s sleep-time include leaving baby unattended on an adult bed or bunk bed, placing baby on a waterbed, beanbag, couch, pillow or cushion, or with a sleeping adult or child on a couch, sofa or chair.

  • Keep baby’s cot away from hanging cords such as blinds, curtains, or electrical appliances as they could get caught around baby’s neck. Keep heaters or any electrical appliances well away from the cot to avoid the risk of overheating, burns and electrocution. Never use electric blankets, hot water bottles or wheat bags for babies.

  • Ensure baby sleeps on the back, ensuring that his/her face and head remains uncovered during sleep.

Further SIDS guidelines please click the link 


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