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New Study: Toddlers Who Are Put To Bed Too Early Have Trouble Sleeping

Tue, December 17, 2013 4:12pm EDT by Kristine Kowalski 1 Comment
Toddler Sleep Problems

Since parents select bedtimes for their babies and toddlers, children may have trouble developing their own internal clocks, according to a new study from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Nearly 25% of toddlers and pre-school aged children struggle to fall asleep when put down to sleep, and a new study revealed that the actual bedtime may be the cause of kids’ immediate sleep problems — and lead to issues sleeping through the night later in life. The University of Colorado‘s new research found the cause to be linked to toddlers’ melatonin levels, which rise before kids feel sleepy.

Toddler Sleep Problems: Kids Put To Bed Too Early Struggle To Fall Asleep

The university’s study monitored 14 families with children aged 30 to 36 months old for six days. The children slept for at least 10.5 hours each night and had at least one 45-minute nap during the day, and gave saliva samples containing melatonin every 30 minutes for 6 hours before sleeping, according to the University.

Average evening melatonin onset — the beginning of potential sleepiness — occurred in the toddlers occurred at around 7:40 p.m., which was about 30 minutes before parent-selected bedtimes of around 8:00. Children did not fall asleep for 30 minutes after being put to sleep, and were restless the whole time. “It’s not practical to assess melatonin levels in every child,” said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois. “But if your child is resisting bedtime or having problems falling asleep, it is likely he or she is not physiologically ready for sleep at that time.”

The study saw that toddlers who were put to bed before their rise in melatonin, and subsequent sleepiness 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,” LeBourgeois said. “This type of response may increase children’s lifelong risk for insomnia over time.”

Toddlers with slightly later bedtimes — a longer interval from the onset of melatonin — were shown to fall asleep more quickly and had less fussy resistance at bedtime, reported parents from the study.

Sleep Study Examines Children’s Biological Clocks

While a convenient scheduled bedtime might be great in establishing a family routine, it may not be effective at calming a little one’s resistance to bedtime. “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 of the findings.

“We believe that arming parents with knowledge about the biological clock can help them make optimal choices about their child’s activities before bedtime, at bedtime, and his or her sleeping environment,” the professor concluded.

What do YOU think, HollyMoms? Do you have a set bedtime for your kids or did they establish their own?

— Kristine Hope Kowalski

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