Your Toddler Isn’t Sleeping Well Because You’re Putting Him To Bed Too Early

200216113-001It may be your fault that your toddler isn’t sleeping well. The bedtime you set for him may be in conflict with his internal clock, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study. There is no winning here.

The study pinpointed the time when the hormone melatonin increased in the evening, indicating the start of the biological night, in a group of 14 toddlers whose sleep also was studied over the course of six days. The study showed that toddlers with later melatonin rise times took longer to fall asleep after being put to bed, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois.

While adults get to choose their own bedtime, toddlers rarely have this option, said LeBourgeois. “This study is the first to show that a poor fit between bedtimes selected by the parents of toddlers and the rise in their evening melatonin production increases their likelihood of nighttime settling difficulties,” said LeBourgeois.

I put my toddler down at nine o’clock every night. Many parents are horrified when they hear that he has such a late bedtime. Guess what? He still stays up for another hour, talking and entertaining himself. I don’t care what this study says, there is no way in hell that little man is getting free run of the house until 10 o’clock at night. I need some peace in my life, thank you very much.

He does all the things this study warns he may do if he’s not ready for bed; bedtime resistance? Check. Tantrums? Check. Episodes known as “curtain calls” that “manifest themselves as calling out from bed or coming out of the bedroom, often repeatedly, for another story, glass of water or bathroom trip?” Check.

So what to do? Researchers are looking at ways to arm parents with tools to help them understand their child’s biological clock, to help them make the best decisions about pre-bedtime activities. For example, research in adolescents and adults has shown that “exposure to light in the evening can delay the timing onset of melatonin.” So they are looking to see if they can prove that restricting light will help the rise in melatonin happen earlier for toddlers.

The study showed several toddlers who were put to bed before their rise in melatonin took 40-60 minutes to fall asleep. “For these toddlers, laying in bed awake for such a long time can lead to the association of bed with arousal, not sleep,” she said. “This type of response may increase children’s lifelong risk for insomnia over time.”

I honestly had no idea it may be a problem for my child to lay awake in bed at night, entertaining himself before he goes to sleep. I’ll be keeping an eye on this “research” to see if they have any more bedtime routine tips. I certainly don’t want to groom a child for a lifetime a sleep difficulty.

(photo: Getty Images)

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